Two Saudi women who were detained for defying the kingdom’s ban on female drivers have been freed after more than 70 days in custody, reports say. Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, was arrested while campaigning for the ban to be eased. Her friend Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, was detained when she went to help her.
Concerns for the women were heightened after reports that their case was being transferred to a terrorism court.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s only country to forbid women from driving. While it is not technically illegal for women to drive, only men are awarded driving licences – and women who drive in public risk being fined and arrested by the police.
Saudi women have launched a series of campaigns – including on social media – to demand an easing of the restrictions. Under Saudi rules, women must be consigned to the passenger seat
Ms Hathloul was arrested on 1 December after she tried to drive into the kingdom from neighbouring United Arab Emirates (UAE). Ms al-Amoudi, a Saudi journalist based in the UAE, was also arrested when she arrived at the border to support Ms Hathloul.
Both women have a large following on Twitter. Ms Hathloul tweeted about her day-long wait at the Saudi border as she tried to enter the country. In late December, activists said the women’s cases had been transferred to a terrorism court – reportedly over comments they had made on social media, rather than for their driving.
The case of the women drivers has shone a spotlight on Saudi Arabia just as the new monarch settles in.
It is reassuring to know that perhaps Islam is being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century and that the emancipation of women is slowly (albeit very) moving forward. As Christopher Hitchens used to vehemently argue “give women control of their own bodies, able to make choices for themselves and remove them from a patriarchal society and you will see fundamental change in society.”