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by Tim Beissmann

The King of Saudi Arabia has spared a woman who was sentenced to be whipped 10 times after she was caught driving in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Shaima Jastaina, a Saudi citizen in her 30s, was set to become the first woman legally punished for driving after a court in Jeddah ruled against her on Monday.

But King Abdullah has today revoked the sentence, saving Shaima from the lashings that were to be dealt next month.

The news broke this afternoon as Princess Amira Al Taweel, the wife of Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, tweeted:

“Thank God, the lashing of Sheima is cancelled. Thanks to our beloved King. I’m sure all Saudi women will be so happy, I know I am.”

Saudi Arabia is the only nation in the world where women are banned from driving. Police usually stop female drivers and force them to sign a pledge that they will never drive again before letting them leave.

Officially, there is no written law banning Saudi women from driving. It is a part of the nation’s longstanding tradition and conservative Muslim beliefs, which suggest giving women the freedom of movement makes them susceptible to sin.

As a result, women are forced to hire a driver or rely on a male family member to drive them wherever they need to go.

Saudi women have been revolting against the restrictions this year, with a number of Facebook pages supporting the movement to improve the rights of women.

Manal al-Sherif, the founder of the most prominent group, Saudi Women to Drive, made headlines in June when she posted a video of herself driving on Facebook and YouTube. She was later detained for around two weeks, and only released after pledging never to speak to the media or drive again.

The punishment of lashings for Shaima came at an interesting time in Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah promised just two days earlier to give women the right to vote in municipal elections in 2015, and insisted he was committed to protecting the rights of women.

Generally, King Abdullah has little control over the sentencing process, which is run by the rigid Saudi religious institution. Many critics saw the punishment as retaliation to the King’s progressive views on women’s rights.

But it appears times may be changing with today’s overruling by the King.

 




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