Maysa al-Alamoudi, 33, a UAE-based journalist, and Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and are the first female drivers to be referred to the terrorism court in Riyadh say activists who are monitoring their cases. The two Saudi Arabian women have been detained by authorities for nearly a month after flouting a ban on female drivers and are to be tried in a special court for terrorists.
It is not technically illegal for women to drive but only men are awarded driver’s licenses and women who drive in public are at risk of being fined and arrested by the police. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women aren’t allowed to drive. Conservative clerics have issued religious edicts against female drivers. In 2011, a woman was sentenced to 10 lashes, but her punishment was overturned by the king.
Ms Hathloul was arrested December 1 when she tried to drive into the kingdom from its neighbor the United Arab Emirates (UAE), according to the AFP news agency. Ms Alamoudi, a Saudi journalist based in the UAE, was also arrested when she arrived at the border to support Ms Hathloul, the agency says.
On Thursday, a court in al-Ahsa, in the east of the country, ruled that the women should be tried at a specialized court in Riyadh that was established to deal with terrorism cases. According to the Independent, defense attorneys immediately appealed the judge’s decision to transfer their cases to the court, which was established to try terrorism cases, but which can also be 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.
“This is not an isolated case,” Saudi activist Hala al-Dosari told the BBC. “This is just a way to really curb the momentum of campaigning and [the] engagement of citizens.”
According to the activist, the pair are being brought before the terrorism court not for breaking the driving ban, but for their social media activity. Their incarceration is already the longest detention for women behind bars in Saudi history.
At the time of their arrest, al-Hathloul and al-Alamoudi had a combined Twitter following of more than 355,000. They are vocal supporters of a grassroots campaign launched last year to oppose the ban on women driving.
[Image via CNN]