Thursday, December 25, 2014

Two women referred to ‘terror’ court for driving in Saudi Arabia

On Thursday, December 25, 2014 this story appeared in the Guardian via the AP in Dubai. A link to the story is  here, and the text is pasted below.

Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, thought first female drivers to be referred to specialised court in Riyadh
This image, released by Loujain al-Hathloul, shows her driving towards the United Arab Emirates - Saudi Arabia border before her arrest on 1 December. Photograph: Loujain Al-Hathloul/AP
Two Saudi women detained for nearly a month for defying a ban on females driving were referred to a court established to try terrorism cases on Thursday, according to friends of the defendants.
Activists said it was the first time female drivers have been referred to the specialised criminal court in Riyadh, and that their detention is the longest of female drivers in Saudi history.
Four people close to Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, said they are not being charged for defying the driving ban but for voicing opinions online. They declined to elaborate on the specific charges because of the sensitivity of the case and anonymously for fear of government reprisal.
They told the Associated Press the women’s defence lawyers had appealed against 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. An appeals court in Dammam, the capital of Eastern Province, is expected to rule on the referral in the coming days, they said.
Human Rights Watch recently said Saudi authorities are expanding a crackdown on people who criticise the government online. It said judges and prosecutors are using a 2007 anti-cybercrime law to charge Saudi citizens for peaceful tweets and social media comments.”
At the time of their arrest, Hathloul and Amoudi had a combined Twitter following of more than 355,000. They were vocal supporters of a grassroots campaign launched last year to oppose the ban on women driving.
In 1990, 50 women were arrested for driving. They had their passports confiscated and lost their jobs. In 2011 a woman was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving, though the king overturned the sentence.
Supporters of the driving campaign delivered a petition to the royal court this month asking King Abdullah to pardon the two women.
Organisers of the campaign, which began in October 2013, say the ban on women driving underpins wider issues that give men powerful sway over women’s lives. An activist said the 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 licences and ultra-conservative Saudi clerics have issued religious edicts against it. No such ban exists anywhere else in the world, even in other conservative Gulf countries.
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 after driving to Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates.
Hathloul was stopped by border guards and her passport was confiscated for more than 24 hours when she attempted to cross the border on 30 November with a UAE driver’s licence in an act of defiance.
Amoudi, a UAE-based Saudi journalist, was stopped when she went to deliver food and a blanket to Hathloul at the border, activists and relatives say. They were formally arrested on 1 December.
There has been no official Saudi comment on the arrests.
Hathloul is in a correctional facility for juveniles and Amoudi is in a prison. Relatives say they have been allowed to see them for short supervised visits.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Saudi open to debating the ban on women drivers, says Shoura Council leader

December 17, 2014 - The Saudi English language daily, the Arab News, issued the following. A link to the story is here, and the text is below.

The Shoura Council will discuss the issue of women’s driving but this must take place within its rules and regulations, the head of the consultative legislative body said recently.

Sheikh Abdullah Al-Asheikh said the council is not avoiding the issue but “it is important that the discussion occurs within regulations and according to specific mechanisms.”

He said the council did not reprimand three members recently who spoke to the media after it refused to discuss the women’s driving issue. He said the council had merely pointed out that the proposal did not comply with regulations.

He said the council is currently looking to boost its online presence by developing its website and opening accounts on YouTube and Twitter. Over the past 20 years, the Council of Ministers has issued more than 900 decisions based on the recommendations of the Shoura Council, he said.

In a recent interview, Al-Asheikh said the council would discuss all topics that fall within its powers and functions, including general development and economic plans, social plans, annual performance reports, rules and regulations, international treaties, and other national priorities.

In response to a question about how the council operates with 30 women members, Al-Asheikh said: “The council has welcomed the historic decision by King Abdullah to appoint Saudi women to one of the most important national decision-making bodies because he saw the need to broaden participation.”

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Saudi Arabia extends detention of women arrested for driving, relative says

Ava Batrawy reports for AP on the two Saudi women held for driving illegally. A link to the story is here,  text below.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Two Saudi women detained nearly a week ago for violating the kingdom's female driving ban were ordered held for 25 more days on Sunday, a relative said.
The women, who were arrested Dec. 1 after driving into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates, are supporters of a grassroots campaign launched last year to oppose the ban. The two women have a combined Twitter following of more than 355,000.

Organizers behind the Oct. 26 campaign say the ban on women driving underpins wider issues regarding guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia that give men powerful sway over women's lives.
Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, set out to defy the kingdom's ban on women driving by crossing into her country from the UAE.

Organizers behind the Oct. 26 campaign say the ban on women driving underpins wider issues regarding guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia that give men powerful sway over women's lives.
Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, set out to defy the kingdom's ban on women driving by crossing into her country from the UAE.

The kingdom's hardline interpretation of Islam holds that allowing women to drive encourages licentiousness. No such ban exists in the rest of the Muslim world, including Saudi Arabia's conservative Gulf neighbors.

In a video uploaded to YouTube Nov. 30, al-Hathloul filmed herself driving toward the Saudi border in what she said was "an effort to sustain the campaign for women's driving."

"She wanted to highlight the absurdity" of not being allowed to drive into her own country, an activist said on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal.

Saudi border guards confiscated al-Hathloul's passport and kept her at the border for nearly 24 hours.
Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, arrived the next day to deliver food, water and a blanket to al-Hathloul, Maysa's sister Hannah al-Amoudi said.

Human Rights Watch said both women were then detained apparently for driving, though it is not clear if they will face criminal charges.

Hannah said authorities notified the family on Sunday that they were extending her sister's detention for another 25 days. They did not provide the legal reasons for holding her.

Al-Hathloul is in a correctional facility for juveniles, and al-Amoudi is in a prison. The women have been interrogated without the presence of an attorney, but were allowed to see relatives and speak to relatives on the phone.

There was no official Saudi comment on the arrests.

In October, Saudi Arabian women got behind the wheel to protest the country's ban on female drivers; the demonstrations marked the one-year anniversary of last year's campaign, which encouraged women to drive, then share video and photo proof online.

Last month, the Saudi king's advisory council recommended that the government lift its ban on female drivers. Under the recommendations, only women over 30 would be allowed to drive, and they would still need permission from a male relative. Women would also have to be off the road by 8 p.m., and would be prohibited from wearing makeup while driving.
Additional reporting by Mashable

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

#BBCtrending: Saudi woman driving blog 'arrest'

Illustration of Lujain Al-Hathloul by Mohammad Sharaf
Illustration of Lujain Al-Hathloul by Mohammad Sharaf
Mai Noman of BBCtrending reports on December 3, 2014: link here, story pasted below.

The name of a woman who live-tweeted her attempt to drive across the Saudi Arabian border has become an international trend, as rumours of her arrest circulate online.
On 30 November Saudi activist, Lujain Al-Hathlool, filmed herself driving in the United Arab Emirates with the intention of crossing the border back to her home country as a part of the ongoing '26 October' campaign, which challenges the Saudi ban on female drivers. The video has had over 800,000 views and over 3,000 comments on YouTube.
Al-Hathlool also documented her journey on Twitter, saying "follow me to find out what will happen at the border". Arriving at the border with Saudi Arabia, she live-tweeted the moment when she was stopped by a Saudi customs officer at the border. Straightaway, Al-Hathlool's name in Arabic became an international social trend.
She tweeted that officials had taken aside, and were making phone call after phone call. Hours went by. Her friend and UAE-based Saudi journalist Maysaa Al-Amoudi, drove to the border from Dubai to bring her supplies.
"Twenty-four hours spent on the border of Saudi," Al-Hathlool tweeted to her 233,000 followers on 2 December. "They won't give me back my passport and they won't let me pass through and no word from the Ministry of Interior. Complete silence from all the officials".
Since then, her timeline has been silent.
An Arabic hashtag that translates to "Lujain Al-Hathlool arrested" has been tweeted nearly 500,000 times, although BBC Trending was not able to confirm the arrest with the Saudi authorities.
Lujain Al Hathlool posted a picture of her on twitter driving
But a statement by Human Rights Watch says activists have told the organisation that both Al-Hathlool and Al-Amoudi have been detained and it is calling on the Saudi authorities to release the two women. Al-Hathlool's husband and family have not been able to reach her either, Saudi blogger Abdullah Al Dayhailan told BBC Trending.
The campaign calling for Saudi women's right to drive has gathered global support, but the topic remains a contentious issue inside the kingdom and the online debate is just as divided.
Many of those who oppose female drivers saw that Al-Hathlool's action showed contempt for state authority and disrespect towards Saudi culture. "Regardless of what we think of women driving, what Lujain is doing is like child's play, she did not respect her society or her customs" one Saudi man tweeted.
"She knew darn well that by breaking the rules she would face some consequences," another man commented.
But some Saudi men have expressed support for Al-Hathlool and women's right to drive. "Lujain is on the border not because she has drugs in her handbag or because she's carrying a bomb but, no it's more dangerous than that…she's driving a car," tweeted one, with a sense of irony.
Others who have joined the debate suggested that Al-Hathlool is not actually breaking the law because she is driving with an Emarati licence that allows drivers to drive in any Gulf Cooperation Council country, including Saudi Arabia.
Although there is no clear law in Saudi Arabia which bans women from driving, Al-Hathlool's legal standing is uncertain, says blogger Al Dayhailan.
"Although a religious fatwa is not legally-binding, it is still treated as such" he said.
Reporting by Mai Noman

Saudi woman defies driving ban to support activist

Tuesday, Dec 02, 2014 - printed in Gulf News - link to the story here. Manama: A Saudi woman has posted a video clip of her driving a car in the capital Riyadh on Monday evening in support of an activist who was questioned for insisting on driving into the kingdom in defiance of a ban. “I am driving my car for the second time in support of Loujain Hathloul and her friend Maysaa Al Amoudi,” the woman who introduced herself as Umm Abdul Mohsen, said.
“They are detained over a ridiculous accusation and they cannot enter their country using their own cars. There is no law that bans them from entering their country,” she said in the short clip posted on social networks.

Loujain was questioned by the Saudi police at the border point with the UAE after she insisted on driving into the kingdom.The activist argued that she had a valid UAE driving licence that allowed her to drive in any of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

The GCC, formed in 1981, comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.No legal text in Saudi Arabia bans women from driving, and women drivers are apprehended for driving without valid licences.
Loujain sought to use her UAE licence to bypass the ban and turned her attempt to drive through the borders and into Saudi Arabia into an international media affair by tweeting regularly about its progress and about how she was blocked at the entry point.
“They cannot ban me from entering even if they think that I am breaking the law because I am a Saudi citizen,” she tweeted. “Besides, my licence is valid in all GCC countries in accordance with the agreement.”
Maysaa, a UAE-based Saudi journalist, presenter and producer, joined her at the border and provided her with supplies to help her through the wait.
“I am now at the crossing point and the border customs want my ID. They refuse to let me in, but I came here to support Loujain and I did not insist on entering [Saudi Arabia],” she tweeted.
Umm Abdul Mohsen’s video clip and Loujain’s much publicised attempt have expectedly divided Saudi social media users over the merit of women allowed to drive in the kingdom.
The online debate has been going on for years with both camps holding on to their views and using a wide spectrum of religious, social and economic arguments to consolidate their attitudes.
By Habib Toumi Bureau Chief
Gulf News 2014. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Saudi Arabia woman arrested at border for defying drive ban: activists

ABC News picked up this story from AFP. A link to the story is here and the text is below.
The story is dated December 1 2014.

A Saudi Arabian woman who tried to drive into the kingdom in defiance of a ban has been arrested after being blocked at the United Arab Emirates border, activists say.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that does not allow women to drive.
"I have been at the Saudi border for 24 hours. They don't want to give me my passport nor will they let me pass," Loujain Hathloul said in a Tweet.
Activists said she was arrested at the border with the UAE on Monday afternoon, but the interior ministry could not immediately comment on her case.
Another woman, UAE-based Saudi journalist Maysaa Alamoudi, who went to support her, was also arrested, an activist said.
"They transferred her and Maysaa... to the bureau of investigation" at a Saudi police station, said the activist who asked for anonymity.
Neither of the women answered phone calls from AFP.
Activists said border officers blocked Ms Hathloul because she was driving, and asked her to wait until they received "orders from their superiors".

If someone brings me a horse or a camel to the border, maybe then I'll be allowed to pass.  - Loujain Hathloul

"The customs [department] have no right to prevent me from entering even if in their opinion I am 'a violator' because I am Saudi," Ms Hathloul tweeted on Monday morning.
She said her driving licence "is valid in all GCC countries", a reference to the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council which includes Saudi Arabia.
Ms Hathloul also posted details about her long confinement in her car.
Six hours into her wait she had said she was "optimistic", and joked: "If someone brings me a horse or a camel to the border, maybe then I'll be allowed to pass."
An activist who spoke to AFP said Ms Hathloul was trying to make a point in her unusual attempt to drive through the border.
"She knew that they wouldn't let her pass," the activist said.
In October, dozens of women drove in the kingdom and posted images of themselves doing so as part of an online campaign supporting the right to drive.
In response, the interior ministry said it would "strictly implement" measures against anyone undermining "the social cohesion".
Women drivers have previously been arrested and cars have been confiscated, according to activists.
They said women's driving is not actually illegal, and the ban was linked to tradition and custom in the Islamic nation.