Women in Saudi Arabia face flogging and imprisonment if they check their husband’s phone without his permission, a government official has warned.
The offence would be prosecuted as a violation of privacy because it is not covered in the country’s Islamic laws, senior lawyer Mohammad al-Temyat has said.
The issue has been a source of growing debate in the kingdom, with high profile cases leading to almost 35,000 tweets under a trending Arabic hashtag which translates as “Flogging of A Woman Checking Her Husband’s Phone”.
Mr Al-Temyat, the legal adviser for the Saudi government’s Family Security Programme, confirmed in an interview with the Makkah newspaper that individuals would be brought before the court if a lawsuit was filed against them.
The legal guidance comes in spite of much-vaunted attempts at social reform under King Salman. The Family Security Programme is part of the Ministry of Labour and Social Development, which was established by a Royal decree and designed to improve access to social services and develop local communities under the objectives of “Vision 2030”.
A female twitter user said “They [men] get annoyed of women ‘only’ checking her husband’s phone, whilst a woman lives all of her life in an ‘inquisition’. Whether that is regarding her clothing, sayings or behaviour.”
Another person called Salim tweeted saying that in order to make marital life “less complicated, a husband should share his private life with his life so they can live a life free from suspicion and doubt.”
On the other hand, Abdirahman highlights other significant problems in the Saudi community, stating: “what about a man who beats his wife? What about a man who does not give his wife her rights? The law should do something about this too.
In his interview with Mahhah, Mr Al-Temyat said checking someone’s phone was a Ta’zir offence, coming under judicial discretion because it has no definition or prescribed punishment under Islam.
He said the law would apply to all individuals checking their partner’s or friend’s phone, if there were witnesses or evidence that the offence took place.
The judge’s ruling will be based on the damage caused to the victim, the person whose privacy has been violated, he said.
As a result, the judge’s verdict on the type of punishment will be based on caused damage, deciding between jail, receiving lashes and a fine - or possibly all three.