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Saudi Arabian woman to face trial for driving a car

Najalaa Harrir drove on camera while campaigning for women’s rights in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Saudi women walk past a car in Riyadh
Saudi women walk past a car in Riyadh
Image: HASAN JAMALI/AP/Press Association Images

A SAUDI FEMALE rights activist will face trial for defying the kingdom’s ban on women driving, according to a lawyer and campaigners.

The lawyer, Waleed Aboul Khair, says Najalaa Harrir was summoned for questioning by the prosecutor general in the port city of Jeddah on Sunday, the same day that Saudi King Abdullah introduced reforms giving women the right to vote and run in local elections four years from now.

Harrir is one of dozens of Saudi female activists behind a campaign called My Right, My Dignity that is aimed at ending discrimination against women, including the driving ban, in the ultraconservative Islamic country.

Harrir recently appeared in a TV show while driving her car in Jeddah.

The news comes days after Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, considered a reformer by the standards of his own ultraconservative kingdom, decreed that women will for the first time have the right to vote and run in local elections due in 2015.

However, activists have questioned the delay on implementing gradual reforms.

“We didn’t ask for politics, we asked for our basic rights. We demanded that we be treated as equal citizens and lift the male guardianship over us,” said Saudi activist Maha al-Qahtani, an Education Ministry employee who defied the ban on women driving earlier this year. “We have many problems that need to be addressed immediately.”

As the My Right, My Dignity campaign gathered pace, some Saudi women posted videos of themselves flouting the kingdom’s laws by driving around cities. This one – subtitled in English below – attracted hundreds of thousands of views in the six days before it was taken down from YouTube.

Days after the above video was uploaded, the Guardian reported that Manal al-Sharif – the woman at the wheel – had been arrested and was facing jail. She was released after nine days in custody, on condition that she not drive.

- Additional reporting from AP

Read more: Saudi women defy ban and get into the driving seat>

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Michael Freeman

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