Saudi women drivers referred to terrorism court

2014-12-25 16:18


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Dubai - Two Saudi women detained for nearly a month in defiance of a ban to keep females from driving were referred on Thursday to a court established to try terrorism cases, several people close to the defendants said.

Activists said it marks the first time that women drivers have been referred to the Specialised Criminal Court in Riyadh, and that their detention is the longest of female drivers in Saudi history.

Those close to Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, said the women are not being charged for defying the driving ban but for opinions they voiced online. They declined to elaborate on the specific charges due to the sensitivity of the case. All spoke anonymously for fear of government reprisal.

They told The Associated Press that the women's defence lawyers immediately appealed the judge's decision to transfer their cases to the court, which was established to try terrorism cases but has also been used to try peaceful dissidents and activists.

Human Rights Watch recently warned that "Saudi authorities are ramping up their crackdown on people who peacefully criticise the government on the internet." It said that judges and prosecutors are using "vague provisions of a 2007 anti-cybercrime law to charge and try Saudi citizens for peaceful tweets and social media comments."

At the time of their arrest, al-Hathloul and al-Amoudi had a combined Twitter following of more than 355 000. They were vocal supporters of a grass-roots campaign launched last year to oppose the ban on women driving.

Supporters of the 26 October driving campaign delivered a petition to the royal court this month asking King Abdullah to pardon the women.

Organisers behind the campaign say the ban on women driving underpins wider issues related to guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia that give men powerful sway over women's lives. One activist said the driving ban is also part of "a wider effort to quash any chances of raising the ceiling on civil liberties" in Saudi Arabia.

Though no laws ban women from driving in Saudi Arabia, authorities do not issue them licenses. No such ban exists in the rest of the world.

Thursday's brief court session was the second time the women appeared before the judge in the eastern al-Ahsa region, where they have been detained since 1 December after driving into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates.

There has been no official Saudi comment on the arrests.

Al-Hathloul is in a correctional facility for juveniles and al-Amoudi is in a prison. Relatives say they have been allowed to see them for short supervised visits.

Read more on:    saudi arabia

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