In a swift and unprecedented reversal of time-tested conservative social codes, King Abdullah has reportedly revoked a flogging sentence handed to a Saudi woman for driving.
Women are not allowed to drive automobiles under the kingdom's strictly conservative version of Islamic law. Some women have risked arrest by openly defying the ban.
CNN reports that a source close to the royal court said the king has revoked the 10-lash sentence handed to a woman for getting behind the wheel. The source, however, said the authorities are not expected to release an official statement. A second source, connected to the Interior Ministry, also confirmed the revocation of the punishment.
The harsh sentence was surprising as it followed a royal order on Sunday that granted Saudi women the right to vote in elections and made them eligible to serve as members of the Shura Council, the royal advisory body. These changes were seen as historic.
Amnesty International was quick to condemn the flogging verdict.
Flogging is a cruel punishment in all circumstances, but it beggars belief that the authorities in Saudi Arabia have imposed lashes on a woman apparently for merely driving a car, the rights group's regional deputy director, Philip Luther, said in a statement.
Allowing women to vote in council elections is all well and good, but if they are still going to face being flogged for trying to exercise their right to freedom of movement, then the king's much trumpeted 'reforms' actually amount to very little. Saudi Arabia needs to go much further. The whole system of women's subordination to men in Saudi Arabia needs to be dismantled, the statement said.
A social media campaign, Women2Drive, which campaigns for women's right to drive vehicles, has gained momentum of late.