Saudi activist Manal al-Sharif attends the TIME 100 gala, celebrating the 100 most influential people in the world, at the Frederick P. Rose Hall on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini)
Saudi activist Manal al-Sharif attends the TIME 100 gala, celebrating the 100 most influential people in the world, at the Frederick P. Rose Hall on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Agostini) Evan Agostini

Saudi woman jailed for driving still coming to festival

SIMON & Schuster, the publishers of Manal al-Sharif's book Daring to Drive in Australia have confirmed that Mrs Al-Sharif will be attending the Byron Writers Festival.

Manal al-Sharif is a Saudi Arabian women's rights activist who helped start a women's right to drive campaign in 2011, called Women2Drive.

This week, at the same time the kingdom issues the first ever drivers licence to a female, a number of female activists have disappeared, which prompted the writer to cancel her trip to her native country.

Artwork cover of the book Daring to Drive by Saudi activist Manal al-Sharif, published by Simon and Shuster.
Artwork cover of the book Daring to Drive by Saudi activist Manal al-Sharif, published by Simon and Shuster.

On May 21, SBS Australia reported the Saudi national decided to stay in Sydney where she now lives after six other prominent human rights activists were detained in Saudi Arabia.

Mrs al-Sharif has not escaped the backlash, with several death threats against her reported to NSW Police.

"I'm used to it, it's not the first time. I don't care about the online trolls, for me they're just fake," she said.

"Being outside the jail and speaking up will be more beneficial I think to the cause than being inside Arabia and in jail," Ms al-Sharif, who kicked off the driving campaign in 2011, told SBS News on Monday.

"This crackdown is really alarming. Why is it happening now?"

The arrested activists have been accused of being "traitors", forming a "cell", and making "contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country's stability and social fabric".

Women2Drive

In 2011, a group of women, including al-Sharif, started a Facebook campaign named Teach Me How To Drive So I Can Protect Myself, or Women2Drive, that says that women should be allowed to drive.

Al-Sharif owned a car at the time and held a valid US driver's licence but was not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, due only to customs, as there is no law criminalising female driving in the country.

By May 21 2011, about 12,000 readers of the Facebook page had expressed their support.

In late May, al-Sharif drove her car in Khobar with al-Huwaider filming.

The video was posted to YouTube and Facebook.

In the video, al-Sharif said: "This is a volunteer campaign to help the girls of this country (learn to drive)."

"At least for times of emergency, God forbid.

"What if whoever is driving them gets a heart attack?"

She was detained by the religious police on May 21 of that year and released after six hours.

By May 23, 2011, about 600,000 people had watched the video.

The YouTube video of al-Sharif's drive became inaccessible at its original location, and the Facebook page for the campaign was deleted.

Supporters republished the original video and Facebook page and a summary of al-Sharif's five recommended rules for the 17 June campaign were published on a blog and by The New York Times.

On May 22, 2011, al-Sharif was detained again.

The day after al-Sharif's arrest, another woman was detained for driving a car.

She drove with two women passengers in Ar Rass and was detained by traffic police in the presence of the Religious Police.

In reaction to al-Sharif's arrest, several more Saudi women published videos of themselves driving during the following days.

Al-Sharif was conditionally freed on May 20.

Her lawyer Adnan al-Saleh said that she had been charged with "inciting women to drive" and "rallying public opinion".

Al-Sharif filed an objection with the General Directorate of Traffic in Riyadh on November 15, 2011, because of officials rejecting her driver's licence application.

Manar al-Sharif moved to Australia with her son and second husband 18 months ago.



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