A Saudi woman has been sentenced to 10 lashes for challenging a ban on women driving. Amnesty International reported the sentence just two days after Saudi King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and stand for municipal elections.
"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 regional deputy director, said in an e-mailed 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," Luther said.
Najla Hariri, one of the women facing charges said, "They called me in for questioning on a charge of challenging the monarch on Sunday... I signed a pledge not to drive again, although my driving was a result of necessity not an act of defiance."
Under Saudi Arabia's strict Islamic laws, women require a male guardian's permission to work, travel abroad or undergo certain types of surgery. There is no law banning women from driving, but there is a law requiring citizens to use locally issued licences while in the country. Such licences are not issued to women, making it effectively illegal for them to drive.
"I am very upset and disturbed... I believe that this is a message which intends to tell women that they will not get all their demands," said Naila Attar, an activist. "We are now working on a petition to the king. We are asking him to stop the lashing order," she said.