Saudi Women To Be Tried In Terrorism Court After Defying Ban

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Two Saudi women jailed for defying the nation’s ban on women driving were sent to antiterrorism court Thursday.Saudi woman driving 2

Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, was arrested along with a journalist, 33-year-old Maysa al-Amoudi, when she tried to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates earlier in December. But the two will not be tried for driving, which is not officially banned by law (though the state does not issue licenses to women and Saudi clerics have explicitly forbidden it). Instead, the Specialized Criminal Court will scrutinize their social media posts under a law ostensibly intended to fight cybercrime. The court has been used not only to try terrorism cases but also to dole out lengthy sentences to political dissidents and human rights workers, according to the New York Times.

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Al-Hathloul became a viral video star in 2013 when she posted a video of herself with uncovered face and hair, declaring she would never cover herself. She then became the face of the movement to defy the driving ban on October 26, 2013, when dozens of Saudi women got behind the wheel, documenting the day of action on social media. The movement, along with al-Hathloul’s videos, spread so rapidly that the Ministry of the Interior reportedly forced her father to sign a pledge to keep his daughter from driving again.Saudi woman driving 4

But since last year’s protest, Saudi women have continued taking to the roads. The anniversary of the October protest inspired more women to drive and post pictures and videos of themselves online.

The driving protest, like many larger movements around the world, relied on social media to organize and get their message out. Repressive governments are starting to recognize the threat posed by social media, increasingly cracking down on dissidents and banning sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. One report found that internet freedom is on the decline in many countries; more than a third of nations have restricted online speech, even as most of their citizens demand greater access to the internet without censorship.