Two Saudi women detained for nearly a month for defying a ban on women driving were referred yesterday to a court established to try terrorism cases, several people close to the defendants say. The cases of Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, were sent to the anti-terrorism court in connection to opinions they expressed in tweets and in social media, the sources say. They did not elaborate on the specific charges or what the opinions were, although both women have spoken out online against the female driving ban. Activists say they fear the case is intended to send a warning to others pushing for greater rights.
The Specialized Criminal Court, to which their cases were referred, was established to try terrorism cases but has also handed long prison sentences to a number of human rights workers, peaceful dissidents, activists, and critics of the government. The detention of the two—both arrested on Dec. 1—has been the longest yet for any women who defied the driving ban. They were vocal supporters of a grassroots campaign launched last year to oppose the ban, and have a significant online following. Though no formal law bans women from driving in Saudi Arabia, ultraconservative clerics have issued religious edicts forbidding them from taking the wheel, and authorities do not issue them driver's licenses. No such ban exists anywhere else in the world. (Read more Saudi Arabia stories.)