SAUDI ARABIA: Woman accuses driver of rape amid growing campaign against women's driving ban
Over the last weeks there has been a growing campaign to allow women to drive for themselves in ultraconservative Saudi Arabia -- the only country in the world which prohibits women from driving and where women are forced to hire male drivers or taxis to move around.
Saudi authorities have responded to the call by clamping down on those allegedly behind the campaign and blocking a Facebook page that promoted allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia.
The campaign for lifting the women's driving ban in Saudi Arabia is likely to intensify after a Saudi businesswoman accused her driver of raping her at gunpoint.
According to an article published in the Saudi daily Okaz on Wednesday, her driver pulled over the vehicle in an industrial area of the holy city of Medina in western Saudi Arabia and raped her while pointing a gun at her. The woman, whose name was not disclosed in the report, reported the attack and the driver has been arrested.
The news comes as activists have called on women who have international driving licenses to get behind the wheel and drive their cars on June 17 in protest of Saudi Arabia's ban. The activists insist that the driving ban is based on conservative traditions and call for a change in the law so Saudi women can obtain licenses and drive themselves instead of having to rely on male drivers.
The campaign quickly gained momentum after its launch, attracting thousands of supporters on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter last month. Several Saudi women came out driving their own cars, including a woman who drove her car around for several days in the Red Sea port city of Jidda.
Then came the case of 32-year-old Manal Sharif, who posted a video of herself driving her car in the eastern city of Khobar. In the clip, posted below, she talks about the issues and complications that result from banning female drivers and presents her arguments for why women should be able to drive.
A day after Sharif posted the clip to YouTube, she was arrested by Saudi authorities on May 22 on the accusation of inciting women to defy the driving ban. She was detained for 10 days and was released earlier this week.
Sharif's lawyer told Agence France-Presse that his client had called upon Saudi King Abdullah to release her and said he hoped her case would be closed.
Thousands of people joined Facebook groups set up in support of Sharif.
--Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photo: A Saudi woman gets out of a car after having been given a ride by her driver in the Saudi capital Riyadh in May. Credit: Agence- France Presse. Video credit: YouTube