A Saudi woman who was arrested after being filmed wearing a miniskirt and crop top in public has been released without charge.
The woman, known only as Khulood, appeared in a Snapchat video that showed her walking through a deserted fort village in Najd province, one of Saudi Arabia’s most conservative regions.
Police began searching for Khulood after the video went viral on Twitter and other social media platforms. According to a translation, their warrant stated that she was guilty of “taking photographs in indecent clothing, disrespecting and violating the teachings of Islam and violating the customs and traditions [of the country]”.
Saudi state TV announced Khulood’s arrest on Tuesday and said that her case had been passed on to the public prosecutor.
However, the Associated Press now reports that she has been released. The result has been seen as a win for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, and is being credited in part to the large amount of international attention Khulood’s case received.
In a statement, the Center for International Communication said that police released the woman after a few hours of questioning.
“She was released without charge and the case has been closed by the prosecutor,” said the statement.
The footage of Khulood divided Saudi Arabia, with many demanding that the woman be tracked down and punished for breaking the country’s strict dress code.
However, Khulood is reported to have told authorities that the videos were posted online without her knowledge.
She also insisted that she had been accompanied by a muharam (male relative) at all times during her visit to Ushayqir, in accordance with Saudi Arabia’s strict guardianship laws – inviting questions as to whether it was her male companion who filmed and posted the videos on Snapchat.
Watch: British women explain why they choose to wear the hijab
“Saudi Arabia’s purported plans to reshape society and advance women’s rights will never succeed as long as authorities go after women for what they wear,” Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division, told the Washington Post at the time of Khulood’s arrest:
Newly-appointed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said that he wants to modernise some of Saudi Arabia’s severe laws, in a bid to appeal to the country’s swelling youth population. The 31-year-old heir to the throne announced a reform programme known as Vision 2030 last year, and has relaxed entertainment laws and removed power of arrest from religious police.
However, the crown prince has not yet attempted to tackle laws surrounding women’s clothing, and traditional attitudes remain deep-rooted.
Many prominent Saudi men called for Khulood’s arrest on social media, with journalist Khaled Zidan writing on Twitter that “the return of the Hai’a [religious police] is a must”.
Ibraham al-Munayif, another prominent Saudi writer, tweeted: “Just like we call on people to respect the laws of countries they travel to, people must also respect the laws of this country.”
But many others praised Khulood’s bravery and accused her detractors of hypocrisy, given that female members of the Saudi royal family are free to wear Western-style dress on visits to other countries.
During President Donald Trump’s state visit to Saudi Arabia in May, meanwhile, First Lady Melania Trump and his daughter Ivanka chose not to wear abayas or headscarves. The Telegraph reports that Ivanka in particular received a lot of attention from Saudi men on social media for her looks and blonde hair.
“If [Khulood] was a foreigner, they would sing about the beauty of her waist and the enchantment of her eyes,” wrote Fatima al-Issa in a tweet that has been liked almost 1,000 times. “But because she is Saudi they are calling for her arrest.”
Images: twitter.com/50BM_ / Rex Features