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Shahla Khan Salter

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Canada Turned a Blind Eye to This Woman's Black Eye

Posted: 07/11/2013 12:33 pm

This year an anti-domestic violence campaign was launched in Saudi Arabia -- the first of its kind in that country. Publicly applauded by Saudi rulers, the poster used to promote the campaign shows the close up of a woman, shrouded in the niqab, revealing an obviously injured black eye and the words (in Arabic that translate into English as) "this is the tip of the iceberg."

Some asked if the ad was a joke or at the very least a hollow publicity campaign, designed to show the Kingdom's critics that it is making an effort to protect Saudi women.

But anyone with knowledge of Saudi Arabia's brutally oppressive patriarchal laws realizes that no real anti-domestic violence campaign of any substance is possible there.

No real protection for women is possible in a country where a male guardianship system remains in effect, preventing a woman from engaging in any legal act without her husband's consent, her mobility restricted and dependent upon his whim.

Nor is there any real help for women in a country where it remains an offence to commit takhbib -- the crime of inciting a separation between a husband and wife. The law puts all aid workers who help women in need of protection from domestic violence, at legal risk.

And that's exactly what happened when in June, 2011 two prominent Saudi activists, Wajeha Al-Huwaider and Fawzia Al-Oyouni came to the aid of a Canadian woman, named Nathalie Morin.

Morin's mother, Montrealer, Johanne Durocher (who has been speaking out for years to try and help her daughter leave Saudi Arabia with her children) connected with the activists on this occasion in the hope that they could assist Morin and her three small children obtain food, while Morin's husband, Saeed Al-Shahrani was away from the home, at a family wedding.

Durocher said Morin had called her when she had been left alone by Al-Shahrani, with no money, her cupboards bare. When Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni arrived and were still outside the building, the police appeared. They arrested all three women, removing Morin from her apartment. Morin states she never spoke to Al-Huwaider and/or Al-Oyouni at any time.

Subsequently Durocher stated that Morin was questioned by police for hours and was told she may be charged with attempting to kidnap her own children. This did not happen.

But Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni were charged with the attempting to aid and abet Morin to escape with her children to the Canadian embassy in Riyadh. The charges were soon dropped due to the influence of a prominent politician in the region. Then, a year later, after the activists engaged in other activities to promote human rights in Saudi Arabia they were charged again with the lesser crime of takhbib.

Morin advised that she wished to testify in support of the activists but was not allowed the opportunity.

So, on June 15, 2013 Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni were convicted and sentenced to prison for 10 months, with an additional two year travel ban, to begin upon an unsuccessful appeal. The appeal must take place on or before this Monday.

Since Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni's conviction was issued human rights organizations and others have spoken out, including the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch (Middle East), Equality Now, Pen International, The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and The Nation along with Muslims for Progressive Values.

Morin, who states she is now almost 30 weeks pregnant with her fourth child and without health care (which she cannot afford in Saudi Arabia) has declared she supports Al-Huwaider and Al-Oyouni and publicly states they did not commit takhbib.

Morin indicates that she wishes to return to Canada and that her husband has agreed to allow her and her children to return to Canada, so long as he can accompany them.

Morin also reports that on a visit this week to the Canadian embassy in Riyadh she hoped to sign a sworn statement to support the two activists and obtain help from the Canadian embassy to allow her and her family to return to Canada with her husband, but instead she was told to leave.

According to Morin, Canadian embassy officials told her that she is no longer a Canadian citizen and has no right to seek the help of the Canadian government.

Certainly justice in Saudi Arabia should prevail at the Canadian embassy.

Or perhaps our embassy staff now works for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Since the conviction of the two activists on June 15, 2013 Canadian authorities have been invited to intervene and none have.

Hopefully one will soon and uphold the recently touted Canadian values we hold so dearly.

Mr. Prime Minister -- are you listening?

Loading Slideshow...
  • Honor Blackman

    <a href="http://www.womensaid.org.uk/page.asp?section=00010001001000060002&sectionTitle=About+the+ACT+campaign " target="_hplink"><em>Women's Aid</em></a> won an award for their domestic violence awareness campaign, which saw celebrities including Anna Friel, Fern Britton, Jemma Kidd and Honor Blackman made-over to appear as if they had been beaten.

  • Clare Wood

    In September the <a href="http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/media-centre/news/clares-law-pilot" target="_hplink">Home Office began piloting a Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, known as Clare's Law</a>. It was so named to honour Clare Wood, who was strangled and set on fire by her ex-boyfriend. It proposes to give women "the right to know" if a partner has a history of domestic violence. The scheme came into being after campaigning to protect women from Michael Brown, the father of the murder victim.

  • Lauren Luke

    Self-taught make-up artist <a href="http://www.youtube.com/user/panacea81" target="_hplink">Lauren Luke</a> appeared before her YouTube subscribers in July looking battered and bruised. While the bruises were fake, <a href="http://refuge.org.uk/lauren/ " target="_hplink">the video, made in collaboration with UK charity Refuge sent a clear message to women across the globe: "65 per cent of women who suffer domestic violence keep it hidden. Don't cover it up." </a>http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=d-XHPHRlWZk

  • Keira Knightley

    Atonement actress <a href="http://www.womensaid.org.uk/domestic-violence-press-information.asp?itemid=2062&itemTitle=Keira+Knightley+stars+in+powerful+domestic+violence+campaign+for+Women's+Aid&section=0001000100150001&sectionTitle=Press+releases " target="_hplink">Keira Knightley starred in a 2009 Women's Aid ad</a> which saw her punched and kicked to the ground. Shot by Atonement director Joe Wright, the clip was deemed "too violent" and was censored before it was shown on TV.

  • Chris Brown

    An 'unofficial' campaign was carried out against singer Chris Brown, who found his latest album, <em>Fortune</em>, slapped with stickers reading: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/14/chris-brown-warning-stickers-do-not-buy-this-man-beats-women-hmv_n_1884927.html" target="_hplink">"WARNING: Do not buy this album! This man beats women!"</a>

  • Here's Barbie as you've never seen her before - as a model of domestic abuse. A student artist has painted black eyes, bruises and blood onto the perfect faces of the iconic dolls. The art project, It's A Matter Of Trust, has the tagline 'We shouldn't be taught that life is perfect.' Read more <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/02/11/domestic-abuse-barbie-reality-violence-against-women_n_4765119.html" target="_blank">here</a>.

  • On the surface this newlywed couple look blissfully happy, but sadly reality tells a different story - one of domestic violence and abuse. Behind the smiles, beautiful flowers and white wedding gown, the groom is twisting his new wife's arm, which is battered and bruised from previous violent episodes. The powerful image forms part of a hard-hitting Norwegian domestic violence awareness campaign. Read more <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/04/08/domestic-violence-campaign-awareness-norwegian-_n_5111105.html" target="_blank">here</a>.


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