A Saudi Arabian woman whose sentence of ten lashes for driving was initially pardoned by King Abdullah in September could still face flogging, even after no one less than Princess Ameerah al-Taweel, wife of King Abdallah’s billionaire nephew Al-Waleed Ibn Talal and a longstanding champion of women’s right to drive, announced on Twitter in September that she would not face such a cruel punishment.
In July, Shaima Jastaniah was arrested for driving in the coastal city of Jeddah. A number of Saudi women had sought to break the ban on women driving in June by getting behind the wheel, after computer security consultant Manal al-Sharif not only drove but videotaped herself doing so and uploaded the video to YouTube. Sharif was imprisoned for several days in May and released on bail, on the grounds that she not drive, not talk to the media and return for questioning as requested.
On November 12, Jastaniah was served with legal notice that she will be flogged, a humiliating and painful punishment, unless she wins a legal appeal on December 12. Jastaniah’s sentence was notably harsh. The usual police response if a woman drives and is stopped is that she must sign a pledge not to “misbehave” again. While some women have driven and signed the pledge more than a few times, Jastaniah’s case was referred to Saudi Arabia’s conservative shariah court system and a judge ordered the sentence of ten lashes for what should have been considered a misdemeanor with a fine. But Jastaniah’s driving is being treated as a criminal act.
On September 28, it had seemed that Jastaniah would be pardoned for driving after Princess Ameerah al-Taweel on Twitter declared, after her husband had spoken to the King on behalf of Jastaniah,
“#women2drive Thank God, the lashing of Shaima is cancelled. Thanks to our beloved King. I’m sure all Saudi women will be so happy, I know I am.”
That tweet was the “most official statement of royal pardon” that Jastaniah received. But the Kingdom’s clerics have apparently taken no notice of it. Writing in The Atlantic, Nivien Saleh takes up Jastaniah’s case and from a very personal angle. Saleh teaches Middle Eastern politics at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, and Jastaniah was her student and friend while studying in the university’s Master of Liberal Arts Program.
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