Saudi officials have warned online activists from backing protests planned by women challenging the male-only driving rules in the kingdom.
Friday’s edition of the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat quoted Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Turki al-Faisal as saying cyber-laws banning political dissent could apply to anyone supporting the women driving campaign.
Conviction can bring up to five-year prison sentences.
The warning widens the possible fallout from the expected campaign by Saudi women with foreign driving licenses to get behind the wheel on Saturday in defiance of Saudi traditions.
The Internet has been a key tool in organising the protest and reaching out to media.
The women organising the campaign have been posting online footage of themselves driving in Saudi, the world’s only country that bans women from driving.
Though no explicit law in Saudi Arabia bans women from driving, the rules are enforced by the country’s powerful Islamic establishment.
‘Disturbing public peace’
On Wednesday, the Interior Ministry issued a statement saying it would crack down against anyone who attempts to “disturb public peace” by congregating or marching “under the pretext of an alleged day of female driving”.
The Interior Ministry spokesman has insisted that “all gatherings are prohibited” in Saudi Arabia, but activists have repeatedly insisted throughout their campaign that no demonstrations will be held.
“October 26 is a day on which women in Saudi Arabia will say they are serious about driving and that this matter must be resolved,” Activist Manal al-Sharif, one of the organisers of this Saturday’s campaign, told the AFP news agency.
Rights watchdog Amnesty International has urged the Saudi authorities to respect the right of women to drive.
“It is astonishing that in the 21st century the Saudi Arabian authorities continue to deny women the right to legally drive a car,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme, said.