Women’s Drivers Rights Campaigners in Saudi Arabia to Special Terrorism Tribunal
Women’s rights campaigners who tried to drive into Saudi Arabia are to be sent to special ‘terrorism’ tribunal. Two women’s rights campaigners who tried to drive into Saudi Arabia are set to face a special ‘terrorism’ court, activists said.
Loujain Hathloul, 25, was arrested after she tried to drive into the country from neighbouring United Arab Emirates, flouting the ban on women motorists.
Maysaa Alamoudi, 33, a UAE-based Saudi journalist, arrived at the border to support Hathloul and was also detained.
Activists claim that it is the first time female motorists have been referred to the criminal court in the capital of Riyadh, which was established to try terrorism cases.
The pair have now been held by the authorities since December 1, and their detention is thought to be the longest yet for any women who defied the driving ban.
Campaigners said investigations surrounding the women appeared to focus on their social media activities rather than their driving. They now fear the case is being used to send a warning to others pushing for greater rights.
The ruling to send the pair to the special court was made at a hearing in Al-Ahsa, in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, it was claimed. ‘They will transfer her case to the terrorism court,’ said one activist familiar, who declined to be named, with the Hathloul case, adding that her lawyer plans to appeal.
A second activist confirmed that Alamoudi’s case was also being moved to the specialist tribunal. Hathloul has 228,000 followers on the social networking site Twitter. Before her arrest she posted details of the 24 hours she spent waiting to cross into Saudi Arabia after border officers stopped her on November 30.
Alamoudi has 131,000 followers and has also hosted a programme on YouTube discussing the driving ban.
In early December Saudi authorities blocked the website of a regional human rights group which reported the women’s case.
Reporters Without Borders, a watchdog, this year named Saudi Arabia as one of 19 countries where government agencies are ‘enemies of the Internet’ for their censorship and surveillance.
In October, dozens of women posted images online of themselves behind the wheel as part of an online campaign supporting the right to drive.
In response, the Ministry of Interior said it would ‘strictly implement’ measures against anyone undermining ‘the social cohesion’.
Activists say women’s driving is not technically illegal but that the ban is linked to tradition and custom in the conservative kingdom.