Human rights group decries flogging sentence for Saudi woman driver


A Saudi woman gets out of a car after being given a ride by her driver in Riyadh.


Fayez Nureldine

Human rights group Amnesty International has decried promises by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to allow greater political participation for Saudi women, following a court sentence of 10 lashes for a woman who drove a car, CNN reports.

BBC News says the woman, who is identified only as "Shema," was found guilty of driving in Jeddah in July. 

"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," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa deputy director, told CNN.

"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," Luther said.

More from GlobalPost: Saudi women demand driving rights

Women2Drive, which campaigns for women to be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, says the woman sentenced to 10 lashes has lodged an appeal. Two other Saudi women are due to appear in court later this year on similar charges, the BBC reports.

Najalaa Harrir, one of the activists behind the "My Right, My Dignity" campaign trying to end discrimination against women, will be brought to trial for violating the ban on female drivers, the Associated Press reports.

Harrir recently appeared on a TV show while driving her car in the city of Jeddah

While there are no traffic laws that make it illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia, the ban is a religious fatwa imposed by conservative Muslim clerics. Supporters of the ban say it protects women, and prevents them from leaving home unescorted or traveling with an unrelated male.

Women in Saudi Arabia have started openly driving cars in defiance of the kingdom's ban on female drivers.