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Woman likely to face sex charge and jail for hugging pop star

A woman may face charges under a new harassment law in Saudi Arabia after storming a stage to hug a pop star, authorities and local media said Sunday.

The woman could face two years in prison and a fine of up to 100,000 Saudi riyals ($27,000, 23,000 euros), attorney Abdulkarim al-Qadi told the Okaz news site.

The woman, who has not been identified, was dressed in a full-length abaya and niqab face cover when she jumped on stage to hug Iraqi singer Majid al-Muhandis, whose love songs are hugely popular in the Gulf.

A police statement said the woman had been arrested on Friday night for “criminal acts as per the anti-harassment regulatory act”.

A video circulating on social media showed the woman rushing on stage towards the pop star, who tried to step aside, before she was quickly pulled away by security personnel.

Press close to the Saudi government said the woman had been attending Muhandis’ concert in the city of Taif in Saudi’s southwestern Mecca province when friends dared her to hug the star.

In May, Saudi Arabia ratified a new harassment act as the kingdom geared up to lift its longstanding ban on women driving. The ban ended on June 24.

The harassment act is widely seen as a measure to protect women behind the wheel.

The legislation is part of a campaign by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to modernise the ultra-conservative kingdom’s economy and society.

Women are also now allowed to attend sports events and concerts and apply for business licenses.

But they still require permission from their closest male relative on basic decisions like enrolling in classes, renewing their passport, or undergoing some medical procedures.

The reforms coincide with a widening crackdown on all forms of opposition, as a string of activists have been jailed in recent weeks.

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