Saudi women's rights activists released from prison

Saudi women's rights activists released from prison
Two Saudi women's rights activists, one of whom tried to defy a ban on female driving, have been freed after more than two months in jail.
3 min read
13 February, 2015
Saudi's driving ban forces women to use taxis over chauffeur-driven cars [AFP]

Two Saudi women's rights activists who have been in jail for over two months  days have been freed, campaginers have said.

Lujayn al-Hathloul and Maysa al-Amoudi had been held since 1 December, after Hathloul tried to drive into Saudi Arabia from neighbouring United Arab Emirates, in defiance of a ban on women driving from driving.

The issue is seen as indicative of the inferior rights of women in the deeply conservative Gulf country.

Amoudi, a UAE-based Saudi journalist, arrived at the border to support Hathloul and was also arrested.

In December, activists said a court in Eastern Province had transferred the two women to a special tribunal for "terrorism" cases.

At the time, campaigners did not provide full details of the allegations against the pair but said investigations appeared to focus on the women's social media activities rather than the driving.

The activist who spoke to AFP on Friday did not know whether the two women were facing charges or what conditions were placed on their release.

Her arrest sparked global interest in her case, and social media has been abuzz with condemnation of the court's ruling.

In Saudi Arabia, a deeply conservative country, opinions on the case have been divided with many subjects taking to Twitter to voice their thoughts.

In a tightly controlled country, social media is one of the few outlets of opinion in the kingdom, although controversial comments online often lead to imprisonment.

"It is great that the two female activists came out of jail with high spirits. The real free woman is never weakened and never wavers," wrote Suad al-Shammari.

The activist was recently released having spent three months Saudi jail for starting a pro-reform discussion group with Raif al-Badawi, who was sentenced to a 1,000 lashes.

"A heroine in solidarity with another delivers their message in a peaceful and civil manner. Respect to peaceful female activists," wrote Twitter user Suleiman Ubeid.

One Saudi Twitter user said, "Probably she was taught a lesson in the importance of respecting the laws of one's country. As she pays lip service to the way the West respect their own laws and regulations, may she follow suit and pay respect to the laws and regulations of her country."

The release of the women also encouraged supporters of religious figures, such as Khalid al-Rashed, who it has been rumoured will also be released.

Rashed, described as a "reformer" by his supporters, was given a 15 year prison sentence in 2009 for allegedly criticising government policy.

Messages of solidarity with Lujayn and Maysa were widespread in the Arab world, and further afield.

"Congratulations on the release of Lujayn and Maysa and shame on those who ignored their plight," wrote Lebanese journalist Diana Moqalid on her Tweeter page.

Hathloul has 232,000 followers on Twitter and tweeted about her journey into Saudi Arabia before she was arrested.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.