Saudi authorities re-arrest woman for driving

May 23, 2011 - 8:59 AM

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Saudi authorities have re-arrested an activist who defied a ban on female drivers in the conservative kingdom, a security official said Monday.

Manal al-Sherif was accused of "violating public order" and ordered held for five days while the case is investigated, the official said.

Al-Sherif launched a campaign against the longtime ban last week by posting a video clip on the Internet of herself behind the wheel in the eastern city of Khobar.

Through Facebook, the campaigners set June 17 as the day all women should drive their cars. The page, called "Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself," was removed after more than 12,000 people indicated their support for the call. The campaign's Twitter account also was deactivated.

Al-Sherif was detained for several hours on Saturday by the country's religious police and released after she signed a pledge agreeing not to drive.

A security official said al-Sherif was re-arrested Sunday at dawn. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Khobar prison chief Ayoub ben Nahit was quoted as saying in the daily Al-Watan that al-Sherif faces accusations of "violating the rules and the system by driving her car, roaming the streets of the province."

He also accused her of "inciting public opinion" by posting the video clip.

Her brother, Mohammed al-Sherif, who was in the car with her when she drove, also was detained Sunday. Al-Sherif is an employee of state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco, where she is an expert in information technology.

Al-Sherif's arrest prompted hundreds of activists to set up Facebook groups and campaigns calling for her release and an end to the ban on women driving.

"Let Manal al-Sherif and all other women drive their own cars, take their kids to the hospital, buy her stuff from the supermarket, go to work without a driver," columnist Khalf al-Harbi wrote in al-Watan.

Activist Walid Abou el-Kheir posted on his Twitter account a petition signed by 300 Saudi activists appealing to the Saudi king to set al-Sherif free and make a clear commitment to ending the driving ban.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women — both Saudi and foreign — from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

Women are also barred from voting, except for chamber of commerce elections in two cities in recent years, and no woman can sit on the kingdom's Cabinet. Women also cannot travel without permission from a male guardian and shouldn't mingle with males who are not their husbands or brothers.