Saudi woman 'spared lashing' in driving case

King Abdullah reportedly overturns a court order to whip a woman 10 times for defying a ban on female drivers.

    The push for the right to drive has heated up since an activist filmed herself driving and posted the clip online [AFP]

    A Saudi government official has said that King Abdullah has overturned a court verdict that sentenced a Saudi woman to be lashed 10 times for defying the kingdom's ban on women driving.

    The official spoke to the Associated Press news agency on Wednesday, but declined to elaborate and spoke on condition of anonymity.

    A day earlier, a Saudi court found Shaima Jastaina guilty of violating the driving ban, and sentenced her to 10 lashes.

    The verdict took Saudi women by surprise, coming just a day after Abdullah announced that women would have the right to vote and run in the country's 2015 local elections.

    Abdullah also promised to appoint women to a currently all-male advisory body known as the Shura Council.

    It was the first time a legal punishment had been handed down for breaking the longtime ban in the conservative Muslim kingdom.

    Unwritten law

    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.

    Normally, police just stop female drivers, question them and let them go after they sign a pledge not to drive again.

    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.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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