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Wed 25 May 2011 01:22 PM

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Saudi Arabia must free female driver, says rights group

HRW calls for release of 32-year old woman arrested for defying kingdom’s driving ban

Saudi Arabia must free female driver, says rights group
While there is no written law that specifically bans women from driving in Saudi Arabia, senior government clerics have issued several religious edicts that prohibit women from driving (Getty Images)

Saudi
Arabia should release a female activist arrested after posting a video online
of her driving in defiance of a ban on women motorists, New York’s Human Rights
Watch said.

The
campaign group released a statement condemning the kingdom’s de facto driving
ban for women and calling for the release of 32-year old Manal Al Sharif.

“Arresting
a woman who drove her family around in a car and then showed it online opens
Saudi Arabia to condemnation - and, in fact, to mockery - around the world,”
Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in
a statement.

Al
Sharif was arrested on Sunday after posting a video of herself driving on
YouTube in which she described the inconveniences of not having a licence.

The
video, which attracted more than 500,000 viewers, shows Al Sharif driving her
car in Eastern Province of Khobar. HRW said the video was no longer available
online.

The
IT specialist, who is employed by the Saudi oil conglomerate Aramco, also
helped launch an online campaign that urged Saudi women with foreign licences
to begin driving on June 17 under a symbolic protest rally.

Saudi
prosecutors have charged Al Sharif with besmirching the kingdom’s reputation
abroad and stirring up public opinion, according to Saudi press reports.

While
there is no written law that specifically bans women from driving in Saudi
Arabia, senior government clerics have issued several religious edicts that
prohibit women from driving.

According
to HRW, Al Sharif was driving with an international driving license, gained in
the US, which is recognised in the kingdom.

“King
Abdullah should end Saudi Arabia's pariah status in the world as the sole
country banning women from driving,” Wilcke said. “Just as his predecessors
made their mark by introducing education for girls, King Abdullah can shape his
legacy by opening the roads to women drivers.”

 

 

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