Saudi Arabia issues first driving licences to women in decades

06 June, 2018, 06:23 | Author: Carlos George
  • Move comes as the kingdom prepares to lift its decades-long ban on female drivers on June 24

However, the government's steps to lift the driving ban for women comes a week after Saudi Arabia arrested several women who campaigned for the right to drive as well as campaigned against the country's male guardianship system.

"Expectations are that next week an additional 2,000 women will join the ranks of licensed drivers in the kingdom", a statement from the Saudi information ministry said.

The Associated Press reports 10 women were granted licenses.

Esraa Albuti is among the women now allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.

The first 10 women took a brief driving test before receiving a license, as they'd already held licenses to drive in other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Lebanon.

Three women who participated in a 1990 protest of the driving ban also were arrested but have since been released.

Eight were temporarily released, pending the completion of a procedural review, the Saudi Public Prosecutor's Office said in a statement on Sunday.

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Saudi women will be allowed to drive on the kingdom's roads starting June 24.

Over the past few weeks, a number of prominent women's rights activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Youssef, were arrested and still remained in detention centers without charge and incommunicado with no access to their families or lawyers. If convicted, they face up to 20 years in prison.

Almost 50 women took part in that first driving protest 28 years ago.

"It's welcomed that the Saudi authorities have finally issued licences to women, but the very women who campaigned for this for years are now behind bars instead of behind wheel", tweeted Samah Hadid, Amnesty International's Middle East director of campaigns. The authorities and the crown prince have attempted to promote themselves as reformers.

The move is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's far-reaching liberalisation drive as he seeks to modernise the conservative petro-state.

Liz Throssell, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told NBC News that, "If, as it appears, their detention is related exclusively to their work as human rights defenders and activists on women's issues, they should be released immediately".

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