JEDDAH: Saudi authorities released late on Monday a female activist who was held for 10 days after challenging the country’s ban on women driving and encouraging others to follow suit, a lawyer and activists said.
Police arrested Manal Alsharif at her home on May 15 and detained her in Dammam prison, facing charges of "besmirching the kingdom’s reputation abroad and stirring up public opinion," after she posted a YouTube video of herself driving in the streets of Khobar in the Eastern Province.
"She was released into her father’s custody and now she will either be taken to trial or the case will be dropped," Ahmad Al-Rashed, a Saudi lawyer following the case, told Reuters.
Abdullah Al-Saadan, the Justice Ministry spokesman, could not be immediately reached for comment.
US ally Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that does not tolerate any form of dissent and applies an austere version of Sunni Islam in which religious police patrol the streets to ensure public segregation between men and women.
Besides being banned from driving women must have written approval from a designated male guardian — a father, husband, brother, or son — to work, travel abroad and even undergo certain forms of surgery.
The conservative Islamic state has no written ban on women driving, but Saudi law requires citizens to use a locally issued licence while in the country. Such licences are not issued to women, making it effectively illegal for them to drive.
Alsharif led a campaign that aimed to teach women how to drive and encourage them to start driving in the streets of Saudi Arabia starting from June 17, using foreign issued licences, but her arrest has cast doubt on the future success of the campaign.
"Her arrest was a fiasco for the Saudi government," said Ibrahim Al-Mugaiteeb, a Saudi activist.
"Because her driving was put on YouTube I think the government wanted to make an example of her so that June 17 will be aborted … I don’t think Saudi women should stop," he said.