JEDDAH - Saudi Arabia should free a female activist arrested after driving a car in defiance of a ban on women motorists and posting video of it on Youtube to encourage others, a US-based rights group and activists said.
Police arrested Manal Alsharif at her home on Sunday and detained her in Dammam prison, facing charges of "besmirching the kingdom's reputation abroad and stirring up public opinion," Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report late on Monday.
The conservative Islamic state has no written ban on women driving, but Saudi law requires citizens to use a locally issued license while in the country. Such licenses are not issued to women, making it effectively illegal for them to drive.
Alsharif learned to drive in the United States. The video of her driving her car around Khobar in the oil producing Eastern Province attracted more than 500,000 views in three days. "Arresting a woman who drove her family around in a car and then showed it online opens Saudi Arabia to condemnation and, in fact, to mockery, around the world," said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at HRW. "The longer she stays in prison, the more the kingdom will have to answer for," he said.