November 8, 2022
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. citizen Carly Morris was detained by authorities in Saudi Arabia yesterday, while her eight-year-old daughter’s whereabouts remain unknown, the Freedom Initiative confirmed on Tuesday. Her arrest brings the number of U.S. citizens detained in Saudi Arabia to at least three.
Morris and her daughter, also a U.S. citizen, have been trapped in Saudi Arabia since 2019 due to the kingdom’s repressive male guardianship laws. The two were lured to the country by her ex-husband, a Saudi citizen. On November 7, 2022, Morris was called in by the police in Buraydah to supposedly clarify details related to her daughter’s identification. Morris never left the police station. It is unclear if her daughter was detained with her or turned over to her ex-husband.
Morris and her daughter arrived in Saudi Arabia in August 2019, for what they believed would be a short vacation to allow her daughter to meet her father’s family for the first time. Neither had travelled to the Kingdom before this visit. Though Morris’ daughter only held U.S. citizenship at the time of departure, upon arrival she was immediately subject to Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship laws, under which she is not permitted to exit the country without her father’s permission.
When Morris’ ex-husband refused to grant permission for their daughter to travel, Morris remained in Saudi Arabia while she sought a means for them to leave the Kingdom together. As Morris’ situation became more desperate, she took to social media to seek help from Saudi and U.S. government officials.
On September 15, Morris was informed by the police that she had been summoned by the public prosecutor in Qassim for investigation. The summons noted the charge of “disrupting public order,” which has become one of the most common charges brought against individuals who speak out in a way seen as critical of the regime.
Morris learned on September 18, 2022, that Saudi authorities had placed her under a travel ban, rendering her unable to exit Saudi Arabia. She called for help in a plea shared on social media, bringing to light inequalities she was facing in her situation.
In a statement she published to her Twitter account, Carly wrote: “I strongly warn all women and children against travel into…[Saudi Arabia] to prevent the same fate as what I am facing. You will be stripped of your dignity, honor and rights…you will be blamed and criminalized…In my case, the perpetrators walk freely, while I am being criminalized…This is not about me, or my child alone. This is to help all other women out there who are in similar situations, and those who might sadly fall victim to it in the future. Hopefully, we can prevent this.” Morris’ Twitter account was deleted yesterday after she entered the police station.
“Saudi Arabia’s continued deterioration on human rights reform couldn’t be any clearer than it is today. Human trafficking, domestic violence, abuse, child neglect and even murder seem to be crimes the regime has no problem overlooking. Instead, victims who publicly ask for help are considered criminals. Carly is a victim, not a criminal. First, Carly and her daughter were victims of her ex-husband. Now, they are also victims of the regime which continues to empower and embolden men to commit such atrocities against women and children,” said Bethany Al-Haidari, Saudi Case Manager at the Freedom Initiative
In July, President Biden traveled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman despite campaign promises to make the country a “pariah.” Since then, Saudi authorities have intensified their crackdown on dissent, doling out lengthy prison sentences to human rights defenders. At least three U.S. citizens and one legal permanent resident remain trapped in Saudi Arabia under unlawful travel bans, and at least three US citizens, including two elderly and ailing men remain wrongfully imprisoned in the country.
Following his Middle East trip, President Biden announced a new executive order aimed at bringing Americans detained abroad home. The executive order included a new “D” indicator in State Department travel notices for countries where there is a heightened risk of wrongful detention. Saudi Arabia was not included. Last month, Biden administration officials said they were seeking to re-evaluate the US-Saudi relationship, following the decision by the kingdom and its OPEC+ partners to cut oil production. The Freedom Initiative and other human rights organizations have called on U.S. officials to center human rights in any recalibration of U.S.-Saudi ties.
“Morris’ detention means that we’re now aware of three Americans behind bars in Saudi Arabia, yet another sign that Saudi simply does not value the U.S. as an ally,” said Allison McManus, the Freedom Initiative’s Director of Research. “Before we hear any more reference to Saudi’s strategic partnership, we need to see an end to the abuse American citizens. We need to see an end to the abuse of women and children whose only crime is their gender.”
“Using the ‘D’ indicator announced in its July 2022 Executive Order, the Biden administration should move quickly to designate Saudi Arabia as a country where American travelers have a heightened risk of wrongful detention,” she added.
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