Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday that a woman who was detained after wearing a miniskirt in a video that went viral has been released without charge.
The decision not to press charges was a rare win for supporters of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, who criticized the public outcry against her. It also comes as Saudi Arabia overhauls its prosecution system under a new, young heir to the throne who has taken steps to try and modernize the country and its public image.
The viral video and the reaction to it in Saudi Arabia prompted police to bring the woman in for questioning for wearing “immodest clothes” in violation of the kingdom’s conservative Islamic dress code.
Her release from detention without charge suggests that the subsequent international attention brought to the case may have helped lead to her quick release. Some women fleeing allegedly abusive families have languished in prison without charge, and others in the past have been imprisoned for defying Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving.
The young woman drew attention over the weekend when the video appeared online showing her walking in a historic village north of the capital, Riyadh, wearing a miniskirt and crop top, and showing her hair.
Saudi rules require all women living in the kingdom, including foreigners, to wear long, loose robes known as abayas in public. Most Saudi women also wear a headscarf and veil that covers the face.
A statement released by the Center for International Communication said police released the woman, who was not named. It says she was released Tuesday evening after a few hours of questioning and that she told investigators that the video posted on social media was published without her knowledge.
“She was released without charge and the case has been closed by the prosecutor,” the statement said.
It is common in Saudi Arabia to see heavily blurred or pixelated images of women’s faces on billboards and storefronts — in stark contrast to the many towering images of senior male royals displayed across the country.
Despite such government controls, more than half of Saudi Arabia’s population is under 25 and many are active on social media where they can access the internet and bypass government censors. Twitter is wildly popular among Saudis as a place to vent frustrations and gauge public opinion.
Conservatives and others angered by the video took to Twitter , writing that she violated rules and should be arrested to set an example. Others rushed to her defense, questioning why the video had sparked such outrage when violations that affect human rights, for example, have not led to similarly fierce internal debate.