Update: Mariam arrest was at 10:30 pm not am
“I didn’t ask for much. I’m only asking to be safe in my own home country?” Mariam Alotaibi, Saudi activist, and domestic violence survivor
The day is Monday, 17th April 2017
It’s 10:30 pm
Location: Nassiriya- Riyadh
Finally, it was a quiet evening. Her body and face are covered in her black veil, Mariam sat behind her cashier screen. It has been a week since she started her job as a cashier despite her bachelor’s degree. It doesn’t matter, the important thing is that she’s finally independent at the age of 29. A mature, responsible adult, despite the legal papers that have declared her nothing but a “minor”.
Two men and a woman they called the “prison guard” entered the place.
“Are you Mariam al Otaibi?” They asked
“Get up and walk with us now, you’re wanted”
“Why? What’re the charges against me?”
“There’s a runway report against you. We’re ordered to return you home”
“My home is here in Riyadh. I transferred last week, I work here and I’m not going back to my family’s house”
Mariam was arrested, publicly, like she’s a wanted criminal who ran away. Her house keys in Riyadh were confiscated. The whole house was searched and her personal belongings, including her cell phone and her laptop and even her clothes, were confiscated! In the interrogation room, they mentioned her father filed a “runway report” against her. And that she’ll be sent to Al Rass jail in AlQaseem, but Mariam is still in al Malaz jail in Riyadh, under investigation.
Her cellphone and laptop are with the Investigation and Public Prosecutor Authority in Riyadh.
Why was Mariam arrested in her workplace and accused of running away? Why, in the matter of few days, did the charges against her change to “disruption of public order”? Who is Mariam? And what’s her story?
Mariam Nasser Khalaf Al Otaibi lived a happy peaceful life with her family, until three years ago, when her brother (M.) who’s one year younger than her, begun to enforce strict rules on them, claiming he’s “cleansing” the house. He even incited their younger brother, Yousuf, to join the ISIS, which he did in 2013 when he was 22 years old. Three months later, an ISIS fighter announced Yousuf has died in one of the Syrian army’s strikes, he posted Yousuf’s passport photo and information on his twitter account. Their distant family cut all relations with Mariam’s family once they heard the news about the brother.
Became a threatening screaming monster, “I will cleanse the martyr’s (Yousuf) house” he said. Mariam stood bravely against his extremism and received threats, beatings and physical abuse in return. M. Went on threatening their father, who’s their legal “guardian” (with the reservation over the term considering she’s an adult), to be more assertive, even abusive, with the girls, or he’ll join ISIS, too.
After an anguish physical abuse, Mariam finally reported her brother in Alrass police department, providing a hospital medical report as evidence. M. Was asked to sign a pledge. And Mariam had to return to her abuser’s house and endure more threats and emotional abuse. She went through great pressure from her father and threats from her brother to withdraw her police report. She continued to receive threats from M., including text messages filled with defamation and murder threats. She didn’t have another choice but to file another report, with the text messages as evidence, but sadly, Mariam was returned to the same house.
Mariam found a safe haven on twitter to document her case @Mariam_al3teebe, she wrote about the domestic abuse she endured and the injustice she faced from the official authorities, she was faced with accusations of lying and having a fake account, which resulted in her posting a photo of her passport as evidence. This drove her abuser mad, demanding she stops writing on twitter and deletes the photo of her passport, which included a personal photo showing her face, in my country you should stay silent, disappear from existence so the family’s honor remains intact. M. instigated their father to press “disobedience” charges against Mariam if she does not withdraw her two cases. She refused to give up her cause and her right. Under all these circumstances a helpless woman undergoes without a law to protect her.
In November 2016, during all these problems she received a call from Alrass Police claiming it is regarding her defamation and threats case. She headed over to the police department, and in a shock, she was arrested and detained in the women’s jail, charged with “disobedience” which her father has filed against her. The story became popular on twitter, inciting the public opinion, the abused girl who went to jail while her abuser remains free. A few days later she was released and brought back to her abuser’s house, for the third time.
Mariam did not stop writing and looking for an outlay from her house all this time, I’ve had direct contact with her! I was shocked how the Saudi Human Rights Association and all the other organizations she sought abandoned her. Everyone told her it’s a “family matter” and they can’t intervene.
Six months after her release from Alrass prison, she managed to get an accommodation and a job as a cashier in Riyadh. She packed her little belongings and left her house with no return.
“if life is not fair to me, I will be fair to myself and leave this torture.” She left a message behind to her father saying, “I’ve left the house for you, forever, I hope you will leave me alone”
We go back to Mariam now, in the interrogation room in Riyadh. Asking the investigator (F.N.A)
“What’s the case against me?”
“Running away from home”
“I won’t go back”
“oh, seems you’ll stay with us for a long time”
Mariam told her about the reasons she left the house, and the abuse she endured from her brother and father. The investigator refused to add this information to the case report. Mariam asked him to write her workplace address and her residence in her apartment in Riyadh, he refused and insisted on writing her family’s house as her residence. After a long argument, he only added her workplace.
Mariam stayed in the Malaz prison for many days, during which she didn’t stop asking about her charges. Finally, they told her it’s “absence of her father’s house and her activism activities on Twitter”
A number of Saudi women activists were able to find a lawyer (A. M.) to represent her. After looking at the case file, which belonged to the “Disruption of Public Order in Riyadh” unit, registry number 41529, the lawyer disappeared after knowing the change in the case against her.
Mariam is still in prison. A try to deny her right of choosing her fate and living independently. Mariam’s case today is one of many witnesses against the injustice Saudi women have to endure in our country. Mariam’s case speaks loudly, giving a voice for thousands of forgotten stories that didn’t have Twitter to tell it to us.
What should you do to stop the injustice?
- Change your profile picture to #IStandwithMariam
- Use the hashtag #IStandwithMariam and spread Mariam’s story now
Freedom to Mariam and all the women in my country.
*The story is as told to me by her own relatives through Mariam herself