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As Some Saudi Women Prepare To Drive, Vocal Activists Are Behind Bars

Saudi Arabia issued its first driver's licenses to women — but not to several who protested the ban.
Posted at 4:10 PM, Jun 14, 2018

Saudi Arabia has issued the first 10 driver's licenses to women in the Kingdom. The women already had licenses from other countries — like the U.S. and the U.K. — but likely still won't be able to drive in Saudi Arabia until the official ban is lifted at the end of June. 

At that time, the government is expected to allow 2,000 more licenses to be issued. 

Those 10 licenses aren't being given to some of the most vocal right-to-drive activists in the country. Instead, several of them are in jail. 

Those activists were arrested at the end of May. The Saudi government said it had to do with security concerns. A pro-government media outlet launched a Twitter campaign calling some of the detained activists "traitors."

Human rights groups suspected it had more to do with previous demonstrations against the driving ban or being vocal about the male guardianship system — which requires women to ask male relatives for permission to do many daily tasks.

It's a little unclear how many activists were detained, but several reports put that number at around 17. Shortly after, the European Parliament put out a statement slamming Saudi authorities over the arrests and other human rights abuses. 

Amnesty International said the activists don't have access to lawyers. The United Nations human rights office urged Saudi officials to say where the activists are and warned their detainments "could lead to draconian sentences."

At the beginning of June, a handful of those who were detained were released — temporarily. Al Jazeera notes that temporary release hinges on a "procedural review." It's not clear what will happen next. 

The crown prince in Saudi Arabia has been credited with the move to let women drive. Saudi think tank founder Ali Shihabi pointed out to the Los Angeles Times the Saudi government is careful to not promote a "Western agenda."

He said, "The government is very nervous [about] balancing different elements of society as it's pushing for disruptive change."