x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Saudi woman driver's lashing sentence 'revoked' by King Abdullah

Princess Amira Al Taweel, wife of the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, announced the revoking of the sentence imposed on Sheima Jastaniah for breaking the ban on women driving on her Twitter account.

JEDDAH // King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has revoked a sentence of 10 lashes imposed on a woman for breaking the ban on women driving in the kingdom, a Saudi princess said yesterday on her Twitter account.

Princess Amira Al Taweel, wife of the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, said: "Thank God, the lashing of Sheima is cancelled. Thanks to our beloved King. I'm sure all Saudi women will be so happy, I know I am.

"In tough times we stand together; in good times we celebrate together," the princess said. "I'm proud to be Saudi. To all Active Saudi women thank u for ur efforts."

Sheima Jastaniah was sentenced on Monday by a court in Jeddah, where she was caught driving in July, a rights activist said.

"We were shocked that she was sentenced to 10 lashes," the activist said, adding that Ms Jastaniah would appeal against the verdict.

The sentence came a day after the king announced that women would be allowed to vote and to run in municipal polls, and to join the all-appointed Shura (consultative) Council.

Amnesty International had condemned the sentence, saying it demonstrated the "scale of discrimination against women in the kingdom."

"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," Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa deputy director, Philip Luther said in a statement.

"Belatedly 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," he said.

"Saudi Arabia needs to go much further. The whole system of women's subordination to men in Saudi Arabia needs to be dismantled," Mr Luther said.

On Tuesday, the Saudi women's rights activist Madiha Al Ajrush was detained briefly in Riyadh after she was caught driving around the capital with a French freelance journalist who was working on a video documentary on women.

The journalist said she herself was set free after her consulate intervened, while Ms Ajrush was later released according to posts by the Women2Drive campaign on the group's Twitter page.

Women2Drive said police requested a male guardian to sign a pledge that Ms Ajrush would not drive, but when no one was reached, she was told to sign herself and leave.

A group of defiant Saudi women got behind the wheels of their cars on June 17 in response to calls for nationwide action to break the ban.

The call, spread through Facebook and Twitter, was the largest mass action since November 1990, when 47 Saudi women were arrested and severely punished after demonstrating in cars.

There is no law banning women from driving. But the minister of interior formally banned women from driving after the protest staged in 1990.

Ms Ajrush was one of the women who took part in the protest.