A Saudi court has sentenced a woman to 10 lashes for challenging a ban on women driving in the conservative Muslim kingdom, Amnesty International said Tuesday.
The sentence was reported two days after Saudi King Abdullah granted women the right to vote and run in municipal elections.
He also promised to include them in the next all-appointed consultative Shura Council in 2013.
“Flogging is a cruel punishment in all circumstances but it beggars belief that the authorities in Saudi Arabia have imposed lashes on a woman apparently for merely driving a car,” Philip Luther, an Amnesty regional deputy director, said in an emailed statement.
“Allowing women to vote in council elections is all well and good, but if they are still going to face being flogged for trying to exercise their right to freedom of movement then the king’s much trumpeted ‘reforms’ actually amount to very little,” Luther said.
Two other women are also believed to be facing charges related to driving, the Amnesty statement said.
Under Saudi Arabia’s strict Islamic laws, women require a male guardian’s permission to work, travel abroad or even to undergo some medical surgeries. They are also not allowed to drive.
While there is no written law banning women from driving, Saudi law requires citizens to use locally issued licenses while in the country, which are not issued to women, making it effectively illegal for them to drive.
In May, as pro-democracy demonstrations swept across the region, some women in Saudi Arabia called for their right to drive.
A campaign called Women2Drive issued calls on social media networks to challenge the ban.
Some women posted on Twitter that they drove successfully in the streets of Jeddah, Riyadh and Khobar while others said they were stopped by police who later let them go after signing a pledge not to drive again.