Saudi authorities should immediately release a male journalist who expressed support for an end to the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch has said.
Officials should also stop harassing and trying to intimidate activists and women who defied the ban by driving on October 26, the international rights group said in a statement.
Local activists reported that more than 50 women defying the ban drove on October 26, according to messages they received from the women and videos women uploaded to YouTube showing themselves driving.
“Saudi authorities are retaliating against people who want a very basic right for women, the right to get behind the wheel and drive themselves where they want to go,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director.
“The authorities should end the driving ban and stop harassing people for supporting women’s rights.”
The group said on the afternoon of October 27, the Interior Ministry’s Criminal Investigation Department summoned Tariq al-Mubarak, a secondary school teacher and columnist for the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, to question him about his support for the driving campaign.
Activists told Human Rights Watch that police took him into custody, and that he remains in detention without access to relatives or legal counsel.
Al-Mubarak has actively supported the driving campaign. On October 6, he published a column in Asharq al-Awsat entitled “The Woman in the Gulf... Time for Change.” The column criticised the driving ban, among other instances of discrimination against women.
Saudi women started the “Women2Drive” campaign in 2011, and recently called for women with international drivers’ licences to drive on October 26.
Even before that date, women defied the ban and published online videos of themselves driving the kingdom’s roads, including footage showing Saudi men driving by and giving the thumbs-up sign to show their support.
The Interior Ministry issued a statement on October 23 warning that officials would enforce the law on October 26, when women were to drive.
An informal prohibition on women driving in Saudi Arabia became official policy in 1990. During the Gulf War, Saudi women saw female American soldiers driving on military bases in their country, and organised a protest against their own restriction.
The Grand Mufti, the country’s most senior religious authority, immediately declared a fatwa, or religious edict, against women driving, stating that driving would expose women to “temptation” and lead to “social chaos.” The interior minister at the time, Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, issued a decree banning women from driving, based on the fatwa.For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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