Saudi King cancels lashing sentence for woman driver

Laura Rozen
The Envoy

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Wednesday overturned a court's sentence of 10 lashes for a woman arrested for driving in the kingdom.

The monarch's decision overturns a court ruling Tuesday against Shaima Jastaina, who was arrested for driving a relative to the hospital, the Associated Press reported.

"Thank God, the lashing of Shaima is cancelled," Princess Ameera Al-Taweel, wife of King Abdullah's nephew Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, posted to Twitter Wednesday. "Thanks to our beloved King. I'm sure all Saudi women will be so happy, I know I am."

The verdict and its reversal followed King Abdullah's decree Monday that Saudi women be allowed to vote in municipal elections in 2015. The aging Saudi monarch also said that women could be appointed to an advisory body called the Shura Council.

On Thursday, Saudi men went to the polls to vote in local elections. The Sept. 29 elections--originally scheduled to be held in 2009 but postponed--mark only the second time Saudi Arabia has held nationwide polls, RFERL reported. Saudi Arabia held its first national ballot in 2005.

"Women don't have the right to vote this time around, but should be able to do so in 2015 after a recent announcement by King Abdullah," the RFERL report said. The Sept. 29 elections "will decide more than 1,000 local council seats."

At present, Saudi Arabia has just 1.2 million registered voters, "out of 5 million men who could be eligible to vote," the RFERL report said.

Meanwhile, women's-rights advocates in the kingdom welcomed the monarch's decision, but vowed to keep up pressure on Saudi Arabia to revoke its driving ban for women. "While we are thankful the sentence against Shayma was revoked, this is a small step rather than a giant leap," a representative of Saudi Women for Driving said in a press release Thursday. "We will continue fighting for our right to drive and exercise our basic rights."