Six Saudi men have been arrested for harassing a woman visiting the capital Riyadh, offences which were only criminalised in recent years, the public prosecutor said on Monday.
“An investigation was opened against six citizens in their twenties concerning an incident in which they gathered around the vehicle of a foreign tourist who they harassed verbally and with gestures,” a public prosecution source told the official SPA news agency.
The six accused, who admitted the offences, had been arrested and were being held in custody amid an investigation that is progressing, the source added.
They now face up to ten years imprisonment over the incident, the source said.
Efforts to combat sexual harassment began relatively recently in Saudi Arabia, a conservative Muslim kingdom where the issue of gender-based violence remains highly taboo.
In May 2018 the government criminalised sexual harassment with sentences of up to five years imprisonment in cases without aggravating circumstances along with fines of 300,000 riyals (69,000 euros).
Since 2017, the country has sought to soften its austere, conservative image in particular through the promotion of women’s rights, driven by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
But the reforms have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissidents, including feminist campaigners.
Saudi Arabia hopes to reassure foreign tourists as it seeks to grow the nascent sector.