May 29, 2018 / 10:24 PM / 5 months ago

Saudi Cabinet approves measure criminalizing sexual harassment

DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s Cabinet on Tuesday approved a measure criminalizing sexual harassment, the state news agency SPA reported, weeks before a decades-old ban on women driving is set to expire.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron (not pictured) at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, April 10, 2018. Yoan Valat/Pool via Reuters

The legislation, which awaits an expected royal decree to become law, is the latest in a series of reforms that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has initiated in a bid to modernize the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.

Prince Mohammed is also trying to diversify the Arab world’s largest economy away from oil exports and open up Saudis’ cloistered lifestyles by easing strict social rules and promoting entertainment.

The anti-harassment measure, which was approved on Monday by the Shura Council advisory body, introduces a jail sentence of up to five years and a 300,000 riyals ($80,000) fine.

“(The legislation) aims at combating the crime of harassment, preventing it, applying punishment against perpetrators and protecting the victims in order to safeguard the individual’s privacy, dignity and personal freedom which are guaranteed by Islamic law and regulations,” a statement from the Shura Council said.

Last year’s decision to end the ban on women driving cars, set to take effect on June 24, has been hailed as proof of a progressive trend in the kingdom.

But earlier this month, authorities arrested nearly a dozen women’s rights campaigners who had previously agitated for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system.

The United Nations called on the Saudi government on Tuesday to provide information about the detained activists, disclose their locations and ensure their rights.

Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Stephen Kalin; Editing by Peter Cooney

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