Shireen al-Rifaie denies any wrongdoing after the wind blew open her abaya during a news report
A female television presenter under investigation for wearing “indecent” clothes during a report on the lifting of Saudi Arabia’s driving ban for women has fled the country, according to local media.
Shireen al-Rifaie, a Saudi national working for Dubai-based Al Aan TV, filmed a piece to camera last week explaining what the end of the rule would mean for women’s freedom in the conservative country.
During the segment, the wind blew open her abaya, the long robe which women in Saudi Arabia must wear by law. A video of Ms Rifaie posted was shared thousands of times with the hashtag “naked women driving in Saudi Arabia”.
The furore that followed eventually led the country’s General Commission for Audiovisual Media to announce on Tuesday that Ms Rifaie is being investigated for violating regulations and instructions related to clothing.
The presenter has denied any wrongdoing in an interview with Saudi news website Ajel.
According to Ajel, on Thursday Ms Rifaie posted a photo of her passport to SnapChat with the caption “I will entrust you to God” and has not been heard from since, leading many to speculate she has left the country. Ajel said they believed she had gone to the UAE.
Women in Saudi Arabia cannot travel without the permission of their male guardian.
The Saudi guardianship system heavily restricts women’s abilities to make basic decisions such as travel, healthcare and education, which are instead made on her behalf by a father, husband or son.
Rights groups say the rules effectively make Saudi women “second class citizens”.
Until Sunday, the kingdom was also the only place in the world which did not allow women to drive.
Since the new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was appointed as heir to the throne by his father King Salman last year, social and economic reforms have been ushered into the country, many of which are aimed at getting Saudi women into the workforce.
In an interview earlier this year Prince Mohammed said that he did not think women in the country should have to wear an abaya or headscarf, as long as they wore “decent, respectful attire”. It is unclear whether the remarks will be officially endorsed by either the kingdom’s powerful religious establishment or a royal decree from the king.