Human Rights Watch (HRW) has strongly condemned Saudi authorities for maintaining a driving ban on women, calling on Riyadh to revoke it.
In a statement on Tuesday, the rights group called the Saudi government’s restrictions on women degrading and absurd.
“After years of false promises to end its absurd restrictions on women, Saudi authorities are still arresting them just for getting behind the wheel,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director.
“The Saudi government’s degrading restrictions on women are what bring shame to the country, not the brave activists standing up for their rights,” she said.
Two women, Lujain al-Hathloul and Maysa al-Amoudi, were arrested on the border with the UAE two days ago despite having valid driving licenses. Human Rights Watch has called for their immediate release.
Saudi women are increasingly defying the ban, publishing online videos of themselves behind the wheel.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. The medieval ban is based on a fatwa imposed by the country’s Wahhabi clerics. If women get behind the wheel in the kingdom, they may be arrested, sent to court and even flogged.
Saudi authorities have defied calls by international rights groups to end what has been described as violations of women’s rights in the monarchy.
The opponents of the ban have become vocal since 1991, after female American soldiers were permitted to drive on military bases in Saudi Arabia.