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Sat 6 Dec 2014 09:02 AM

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Rights group in new call to end Saudi driving ban

Human Rights Watch urges action after two women are detained on Saudi side of border with the UAE

Rights group in new call to end Saudi driving ban
Saudi women, saudi women driving

Saudi Arabia has been urged to end its status as the only country in the world which locks up women for driving after the country detained two women on the Saudi side of the border with the UAE earlier this week.

Saudi activists told Human Rights Watch that Lujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, both Saudis holding valid UAE driving licences, do not know whether they will face criminal charges.

Given that both women appear to be detained because they were driving, Saudi officials should immediately release them and end the discriminatory driving ban on women, Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

“After years of false promises to end its absurd restrictions on women, Saudi authorities are still arresting them just for getting behind the wheel,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director.

“The Saudi government’s degrading restrictions on women are what bring shame to the country, not the brave activists standing up for their rights.”

Saudi driving activists told Human Rights Watch that al-Hathloul drove to the Saudi border from Abu Dhabi on November 30 and attempted to cross into Saudi Arabia, but authorities confiscated her passport and held her at the border crossing in her car overnight.

She was joined on December 1 by al-Amoudi, who drove to the border from Dubai to bring al-Hathloul supplies, but did not intend to enter Saudi Arabia.

The activists said both were detained by Saudi officials on the Saudi side of the al-Batha border crossing and transferred to the Bureau of Interrogation and Prosecution in the Eastern Province city of Hufuf for questioning.

Both women have vocally supported an end to the driving ban. Since 2013, al-Hathloul has posted numerous videos of herself calling for women’s rights reforms and encouraging women to drive in defiance of the ban.

The informal prohibition on female driving in Saudi Arabia became official state policy in 1990.

Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory male guardianship system remains intact despite government pledges to abolish it. Under this system, ministerial policies and practices forbid women from obtaining a passport, marrying, travelling, or accessing higher education without the approval of a male guardian, usually a husband, father, brother, or son.

“It’s time for Saudi Arabia to end its status as the only country in the world that locks women up for driving,” Whitson said.