Manal al-Sharif, the Saudi Arabian woman who challenged the ban on women driving in her country, has been freed from prison today. Two weeks ago, Al-Sharif had a friend videotape her driving and called, via Facebook and other social media sites, for a “mass drive” of women on June 17th. An information technology specialist with the state-run oil company Aramco, Al-Sharif was arrested on May 21 and imprisoned first for five days and then for 10 more days.
The reasons for her release were not noted by authorities and al-Sharif has reportedly signed an agreement not to drive again or to speak to reporters. Via Twitter, Ahmed Al Omran says that al-Sharif was released on bail paid by her father.
According to the New York Times, “international pressure for her freedom” played a part in al-Sharif’s release:
The Saudi activist, Waleed Aboul Khair, credited al-Sherif’s release on “pressure from inside and outside” Saudi Arabia, which follows an austere brand of Islam known as Wahhabism that is enforced by morality police.
…Aboul Khair said he still plans to press ahead with a petition asking Saudi authorities to lift the driving ban on women — the only such rule in the world.
There is no written Saudi law banning women from driving — only fatwas, or religious edicts, by senior clerics. They claim it protects against the spread of vice and temptation because women drivers would be free to leave home alone and interact with male strangers. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers or rely on male relatives to drive.
Al-Sharif’s release was announced on Twitter; you can follow updates via #Women2Drive.
Please sign this petition to end the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia.
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