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Saudi Woman Sentenced To Lashes After Defying Driving Ban

A Saudi woman fastens her seat belt before driving in Jeddah, western Saudi Arabia.
Michael Bou-Nacklie
Michael Bou-Nacklie
A Saudi woman fastens her seat belt before driving in Jeddah, western Saudi Arabia.

A court in Jeddah on the west coast of Saudi Arabia sentenced a woman to ten lashings with a whip for defying the country's ban on women driving,activists told the AP.

This comes less than 48-hours after King Abdullah's announcement that Saudi women would be able to participate in municipal elections and be appointed to the Shoura Council. Two other women from the driving campaign have also been summoned for questioning and will stand trial.

Madeha Alajroush, who was part of the group of women who drove in 1990, was arrested this afternoon in Riyadh for driving her car. We talked with Alajroush after she was released.

"Police did not see me driving, but one of my neighbors reported me," she told us.

Alajroush said she was being interviewed at her house by a French journalist about the recent King decisions, and she said she wanted to "make a statement" by driving. She said she used the journalist's car and drove for a few minutes without incident then returned home.

Police came knocking at her door, and she was taken to the police station where she was detained for four hours. "They treated me well," she said. She was released after signing a pledge not to drive again.

We talked to Alajroush last month about her experience participating in the first driving protest in 1990, but she expressed hope for the future saying it's time for women to demand the right to drive again.

Yesterday, we talked to Mohammed al-Qahtani, who heads a human rights group in Saudi Arabia. He said the voting rights announcement was simply "symbolic" and was not a signal of greater reforms.

Activists said the latest rash of arrests and news of the lashings put a damper on the voting rights announcement.

"The King's announcement did not change anything," said lawyer and activist Waleed Abu Alkhair over the phone from Jeddah. He said the situation for women's rights in the country remains "disastrous," and added that some people might have forgotten the reality in the excitement over the royal decisions.

"The King's speech is not a big deal," he said. "It is just an attempt to improve Saudi Arabia's image abroad."

Ahmed Al Omran is an intern with NPR's social media desk. He's blogged from Saudi Arabia since 2004, until he came stateside to attend Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ahmed Al Omran