Amnesty International says a court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced a woman to 10 lashes for challenging a ban on women driving in the conservative kingdom.
The sentence comes two days after Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced women would be allowed to vote and run in municipal elections for the first time in 2015.
"We are now working on a petition to the king ... asking him to stop the lashing order"
- Naila Attar, Saudi activist
He also promised to include them in the next all-appointed consultative Shura Council in 2013.
"Flogging is a cruel punishment in all circumstances but it beggars belief that the authorities in Saudi Arabia have imposed lashes on a woman apparently for merely driving a car", Philip Luther, an Amnesty regional deputy director, said in a statement on Tuesday.
"Allowing women to vote in council elections is all well and good, but if they are still going to face being flogged for trying to exercise their right to freedom of movement then the king's much trumpeted 'reforms' actually amount to very little."
Two other women are also believed to be facing charges related to driving, the UK-based rights group statement said.
Driving 'a necessity'
Najla Hariri, one of the women facing charges, told the Reuters news agency: "They called me in for questioning on a charge of challenging the monarch on Sunday ... I signed a pledge not to drive again, although my driving was a result of necessity, not an act of defiance."
Under Saudi Arabia's laws, women require a male guardian's permission to work, travel abroad or even undergo certain types of surgery.
There is no written law banning women from driving, but there is a law requiring citizens to use locally issued licences while in the country.
|Saudi women will be allowed to vote for the first time in 2015, but driving remains a banned activity [EPA]
Such licences are not issued to women, making it effectively illegal for them to drive.
In May, as pro-democracy protests swept across the region, some women in Saudi Arabia called for the right to drive.
A campaign dubbed Women2Drive issued calls on social media such as Twitter and Facebook to challenge the ban.
Some women posted on twitter that they drove successfully in the streets of Jeddah, Riyadh and Khobar while others said they were stopped by police who later let them go after signing a pledge not to drive again.
On May 22, Manal Alsharif, who posted a YouTube video of her driving in the streets of Khobar, was arrested.
She was later released, but her case proved a deterrent for many women.
"I am very upset and disturbed ... I believe that this is a message which intends to tell women that they will not get all their demands," Naila Attar, an activist and one of the women who organised the Baladi ('my country') campaign, said.
"We are now working on a petition to the king ... asking him to stop the lashing order," she said.