Female motorists charged with “inciting public opinion”
Two women drivers accused of defying Saudi Arabia’s ban on female motorists are facing the prospect of a terror trial.
According to a BBC report, Lujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-'Amoudi, 33, both Saudis holding valid UAE driving licences, have been charged with “inciting public opinion” and have been referred to a court in Riyadh set up to try members of al-Qaeda.
The Human Rights Watch website revealed last month that Saudi authorities had arrested two women on the Saudi side of the border with the United Arab Emirates, one of whom tried to drive a car across to Saudi Arabia.
Human Rights Watch have called for the women’s immediate release and urged the Saudi authorities to end its “absurd restrictions on women”.
The case brought against the two women - both vocal supporters of a campaign to end the driving ban - has again brought the treatment of females in Saudi Arabia under the international spotlight.
There is no actual law preventing women from driving, but they cannot apply for a driving licence and can be arrested if found behind the wheel.
Punishments for women found behind the wheel can be quite varied. Some are let off with fines whilst others have faced 150 lashes and prison sentences. In 1990 around 50 women were arrested for driving. They had their passports confiscated and also lost their jobs.
Female residents in Saudi Arabia began a campaign to overturn the ban in 2011. Over the past year numerous female activists have videoed themselves driving around Saudi cities in a bid to increase the international coverage of their campaign.
In November 2014 their campaign seemed to have worked as it was announced that the country was finally looking to partially remove the ban.
If the new law is passed then it would only allow women over the age of 30 to drive between 7am and 8pm, Saturday to Wednesday and from noon to 8pm Thursday and Friday.
Other conditions stated in the proposal are that if they are to drive then women need to be conservatively dressed and wear no makeup. The women will be allowed to drive on their own around cities, but if driving outside of them then they will require a male relative to be present in the car.
To get around at the moment families often hire live-in drivers at a cost of around £200-£300 a month to drive the female members of the family around but those who can’t afford this cost have to rely on the men of the household to get around.
Putting this law into place will also mean more jobs for women will be created as a so called ‘female traffic department’ will have to be introduced to assist female drivers if they broke down and to hand out fines. This comes on the back of it being announced that if this law was passed, if a male traffic officer is spotted speaking to a female driver then he could face a one-month prison sentence and a fine.
However it is likely to face major opposition, particularly from the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia who has previously described the ban on women drivers as protecting the country from ‘evil’.
*Picture: Still from YouTube video issued by Loujain al-Hathloul.