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2013-10-31 12:12

AYA BATRAWY

STILL FIGHTING: A Saudi writer who has opposed the country's ban on women driving has been arrested by police. Image: AP

DUBAI, UAE - Police have arrested a Saudi news media columnist who supported ending his country's ban on women driving, activists have reported.

The activists, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said Tariq al-Mubarak was called by investigators concerning a stolen car over the weekend. When he arrived at the interior ministry's Criminal Investigation Department on Sunday he was interrogated instead about his role in a campaign launched by reformers seeking the right of women to drive in the kingdom.

When his friends were informed they could pick him up at the investigator's office they too were detained for several hours and questioned abouit the campaign's activities, activists said.

UNFAIR DETENTION?

Human Rights Watch and activists who know al-Mubarak say he remains in detention with no access to a lawyer. The New York-based organisation called for al-Mubarak's immediate release and on authorities "to stop harassing and trying to intimidate activists and women who defy the driving ban".

Ministry spokesman Mansour al-Turki could not be reached for comment.

In a column published in the pan-Arab daily newspaper Asharq al-Awsat on the day of his arrest al-Mubarak said extremists were intimidating people into not exercising their rights. He claimed the courts in Saudi Arabia did not have sufficient provisions to deter those who threatened and terrorised others because "rights and freedoms... are not instilled in our culture or in our interpretation of religion".

Al-Mubarak, who also works as a schoolteacher, was among a core group of active young Saudis calling for women to be allowed to drive. About 60 women claimed they went driving on Saturday (Oct 26 2013) to oppose the ban. The campaign sparked protest by the kingdom's ultra-conservative religious establishment.

The reformers behind the driving campaign said their efforts were ongoing and that they continued to receive videos from women filming themselves flouting the driving ban.

The activists told The Associated Press they had been followed for the past several days and were anticipating arrest. They have put in place contingency plans and emergency numbers for journalists and rights organisations to call in case they are detained.

At least two women have recently been fined for driving, the activists said. Samia El-Moslimany said she was fined the equivalent of about R1350 though she has an American driving licence.
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