Saudi woman gets 10 lashes for driving

A SAUDI woman has been sentenced to 10 lashes for defying a ban on women driving in the conservative kingdom, an activist says, while another woman has been arrested in the capital.

Sheima Jastaniah was sentenced yesterday by a court in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, where she was caught driving in July, the activist said today, requesting anonymity.

She said Jastaniah “had refused to talk to media about her trial … and we were shocked yesterday (Monday local time) that she was sentenced to 10 lashes”.

Jastaniah will appeal the verdict, she added.

The sentence came a day after King Abdullah announced allowing women to vote and run in municipal polls, and to join the all-appointed Shura (consultative) Council, a first in a country that imposes many restrictions on women.

Amnesty International condemned the sentence, saying it demonstrated the “scale of discrimination against women in the kingdom”.

.”Flogging is a cruel punishment in all circumstances but it beggars belief that the authorities in Saudi Arabia have imposed lashes on a woman apparently for merely driving a car,” Middle East and North Africa deputy director Philip Luther said in a statement.

“Belatedly allowing women to vote in council elections is all well and good, but if they are still going to face being flogged for trying to exercise their right to freedom of movement then the king’s much-trumpeted ‘reforms’ actually amount to very little,” he added.

“Saudi Arabia needs to go much further. The whole system of women’s subordination to men in Saudi Arabia needs to be dismantled,” added the official from the London-based advocacy group.

Meanwhile, women rights activist Madiha al-Ajrush was detained briefly today in Riyadh after she was caught driving around the capital with a French freelance journalist who was working on a video documentary on women.

A group of defiant Saudi women got behind the wheels of their cars on June 17 in response to calls for nationwide action to break the ban.

The call, spread through Facebook and Twitter, was the largest mass action since November 1990, when 47 Saudi women were arrested and severely punished after demonstrating in cars.

The is no law banning women from driving. But the minister of interior formally banned women from driving following the protest staged in 1990.

Ajrush was one of the women who took part in the protest.

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