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Saudi Arabia blocks citizens' access to website supporting women's right to drive

Female driver Azza Al Shmasani alights from her car after driving in defiance of the ban in Riyadh on 22 June 2011
Female driver Azza Al Shmasani alights from her car after driving in defiance of the ban in Riyadh on 22 June 2011

REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed

Saudi authorities have blocked access within the country to the site Oct26driving.com, which supports Saudi women's right to drive, in a move considered by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI) to be a continuation of a repressive and tyranical policy by a regime which seems to be the only remaining relic of the Middle Ages.

The site, which was launched by a group of Saudi citizens, states that its aim is "to revive the demand to lift the ban on women driving". The slogan chosen for the campaign is "Driving for women is a choice not determined by force" written in Arabic. The site, which now has nearly 12,000 fans, was blocked after it published a statement on 21 September calling on the authorities to allow women to drive as the Islamic Sharia Law does not dictate that women should be forbidden from driving, neither does Saudi law. No clear reasons were given for the blocking the site.

The site was first launched as part of a campaign urging women to drive on 26 October. A number of women agreed and announced that they will be driving on that particular date. Among those who supported the campaign were the activists Naseema Al-Sadaa, and Nagla Al-Hariri, one of the first women to drive in Saudi Arabia. Al-Hariri however, announced that she won't participate because she signed a pledge not to drive when she was arrested in June 2011.

A number of women replied to similar calls in June 2011, after the activist Manal Al-Sharif was arrested. She was detained by the religious police for driving her own car in Khobar city on 21 May 2011. She then wrote about her experience on the Internet which led to the arrests of many other women. Many of them were released only after signing pledges not to drive again.

"Blocking the Oct26driving.com site is a clear encroachment on freedom of expression and the rights of women as well," said ANHRI, "The Saudi government claims it protects women's rights, but its actions clearly show a hostile attitude towards human rights. This free expression violation will be added to Saudi Arabia's human rights record, which happens to be the worst in the Arab world."

ANHRI also pointed out that the blocking of this site wasn't the first of its kind as authorities blocked Omaima Al-Naggar's blog on May 2011 because of her support for the activist Manal Al-Sherif mentioned above], who launched the campaign "I will drive my own car" which calls for the right of Saudi women to drive.

"There are no articles in the Saudi law which forbid women from driving, only one law pertains to driving and that is that a driver must obtain a license before being permitted to drive," said ANHRI, "Saudi authorities refuse to grant women driving licenses claiming that it is based on a societal stance and that it is not mandated by them. Blocking a website that supports women's right to drive however, clearly exposes that claim as a lie."

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