Malak Al-Shehri: Global Outcry After Saudi Woman Is Arrested For Stepping Out In Public Without Hijab

Malak Al Shehri
AP Images / AP Images

Malak Al-Shehri, a young Saudi woman who created major controversy late last month by stepping out in public without a hijab or (veil), has been reportedly arrested by police officials in Saudi Arabia, the Washington Post reports. Shehri, who is believed to be in her 20s, became an overnight internet sensation after she posted an image of herself going out on the streets of Riyadh for breakfast without a traditional hijab. Apart from not wearing the mandatory hijab, she also flouted strict local laws by wearing a multicolored dress, a jacket, and ankle-length boots.

After Al-Shehri’s image went viral, there was a huge public outcry within Saudi Arabia calling for strict action against her. Many people openly called out for her arrest and even demanded she be imprisoned for her crime. Some people even wanted her to be executed. Some of the tweets, which were in Arabic, translated to English, read,

“The least punishment for her is beheading her.”

Another Twitter user wrote,

“Kill her and throw her body to the dogs.”

Some others were relatively more liberal

“We demand utmost punishment, for the state has rules that she did not respect.”

There were also several tweets in support of her — some from even within the ultra-conservative Saudi society. After the image went viral, Malak also drew tremendous support from the international community who applauded her for doing what she did. Some people even referred to her as the “Saudi Rosa Parks,” the famous American civil rights activist who refused to give up her seat in the colored section of a bus to a white passenger, after the white section was filled.

Just over two weeks after the incident was first reported, Saudi officials have confirmed that they have indeed arrested Malak Al-Shehri for “violations of general morals.” The news of Shehri’s arrest was confirmed by a local police spokesperson Fawaz al-Maiman. He also later revealed that Shehri was also accused of “speaking openly about prohibited relations” with unrelated men. A statement issued by a senior police official following the arrest of Malak Al-Shehri read,

“Riyadh police stress that the action of this woman violates the laws applied in this country.”

The statement also asked people to “adhere to the teachings of Islam” and reiterated that Saudi women are expected to wear head scarves and loose fitting garments such as the hijab while they are out in public.

Before the arrest was made, Shehri was reportedly also interviewed by several western media outlets, In one such interview with the International Business Times, Shehri revealed how her plan to go out for a simple breakfast turned into an international story. On the day she posted the controversial image, she had reportedly tweeted out that she plans to go out for breakfast without wearing a hijab. Her followers, who were not convinced, asked her to post a picture for proof — which is exactly what she did. The image was posted using her Twitter account @AngelQShe, which has since then been deleted. Following the news of her arrest, several local citizens congratulated police officials for doing their job. A Daily Mail report also added that Malak Al-Shehri could receive several lashes as punishment. This, however, is yet to be confirmed by police and other local authorities.

According to several women’s rights activists, the arrest of Malak Al-Shehri is yet another example of Saudi Arabia’s open discrimination against women. As of 2016, it is the only country in the world where women are prohibited from driving vehicles. Saudi women are also prohibited from applying for passports on their own and need consent from either their husband or father to apply for the same. It was only recently that they gave voting rights for women.

[Featured Image by AP Images]