Saudi Arabia issues first driving licences to women in decades

Saudi Arabia issues first driving licences to women in decades

The activist's lawyer, Ibrahim al-Modimeegh, who formerly served as an adviser to the Saudi cabinet, was also arrested.

The Saudi General Traffic Directorate in Riyadh started allowing women to trade in worldwide licenses for national ones at various locations around the kingdom, the Saudi Press Agency announced.

Three women - from Wales, Canada and the United States - will train female driving instructors in Saudi Arabia, the BBC reported on Saturday.

Saudi authorities have since released less than half of those detained.

But rights groups in the kingdom have campaigned for years to allow women to drive, and some women have been imprisoned for defying the rule.

General Department of Traffic's Director, Major General Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Bassami, announced last month that all preparations for women in Saudi Arabia to start driving have been completed. They have not only risked arrest by pushing for years for the right to drive, but have also called for an end to guardianship laws that give male relatives the final say over a woman marrying or traveling overseas.

The Ministry of Information said this week that thousands of driving licenses are expected to be issued to women before the ban officially lifts.

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Rights groups have identified numerous detainees as women campaigners for the right to drive and to end the conservative country's male guardianship system. Four years ago the country's top cleric, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, said barring women from driving "was in the best interest of society" because it protected them from having to deal with an accident.

In September, a royal decree repealed a ban on women driving in the kingdom.

Women pose for a photo after attending a driving training at a university in Jeddah.

"It's a dream come true that I am about to drive in the kingdom", Rema Jawdat, who received a licence, was quoted as saying by the ministry.

"Now we have videos of traffic police handing over these driver's licences to divert the world's attention from the fact that the women who were actually behind championing the cause. are not only in prison but have been charged and potentially face very, very long sentences", she said.

The European Parliament last week approved a resolution calling for the unconditional release of the detained activists and other human rights defenders, while urging a more vocal response from EU nations.

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