Saudi court sentences woman driver to 10 lashes

A Saudi court has sentenced a woman to 10 lashes for challenging a ban on women driving in the conservative Muslim kingdom, Amnesty International said yesterday.

The sentence was reported two days after Saudi King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and run in municipal elections. 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 International regional deputy director, said in an emailed statement.

"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 Amnesty statement said.

Under Saudi Arabia's strict Islamic laws, women require a male guardian's permission to work, travel abroad or even undergo some medical surgeries. They are not allowed to drive.

While there is no written law banning women from driving, citizens are required to use locally issued licences while in the country. These 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 demanded the right to drive. A campaign, 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 to be a deterrence for many women.

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