Free the right-to-drive activists in Saudi Arabia

Tuesday 11th September 2018 | Jake

Late in June of this year, Mohammed Bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince, basked in international praise. He had lifted the ban on women driving vehicles. Samar Almogren, a popular talk-show host, explained the euphoria: “I feel free like a bird.”

Over two months later, the activists responsible for the newfound freedoms enjoyed by Saudi women remain behind bars.

They spent that celebratory night imprisoned, facing up to 20 years inside for their dissidence. Crown Prince Salman has been on a charm offensive since becoming ruler, promising reform and an ambitious modernisation of the deeply conservative nation. The PR has worked, Salman was celebrated as a successful reformer after lifting the driving ban. However, he retains the penchant for human rights abuses and oppression his predecessors shared.

Just a month before lifting the ban Salman set about quashing the rapidly developing women’s rights movement in Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch (HRW) say a minimum of 13 activists have been detained and face lengthy prison sentences. Nine of these women have been detained without any charges actually held against them. These nine are Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Hatoon al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassema al-Sadah, and Amal al-Harbi.

Depressingly the royal family and car companies will make millions from the activists’ victory. Car sales will grow as the market is flooded with new customers, and companies will be eager to curry favour with the royal family in order to get priority access to a new, emboldened female market.

HRW is imploring all major car companies to demand the release of the activists as part of a campaign to Stand with Saudi Feminists. The campaign asks the public to demand car companies act, after said companies unanimously failed to call out the persecution of the feminist activists.

You can join the Stand with Saudi Feminists campaign here.