Manal al-Sharif publicly defied the ban on Saudi women drivers (Jemal Countess/Getty Images for TIME)
One year ago, Manal al-Sharif, divorced mother of one, took it upon herself to do something, women across the world do every day: Drive.
In May 2011, Manal al-Sharif got in a car and drove through the streets of Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Filmed by an acquaintance, al-Sharif followed the 1990 demonstration in which Saudi women took on the streets of the capital and drove without permission. Her action not only caused an uproar in the kingdom, but also laid ground for the now well-known Women2Drive campaign that celebrates its anniversary on June 17.
Activists around the world took to social media to support the campaign, including Amnesty activists who recently collected portraits of activists supporting the right to drive for Saudi women.
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Saudi women wait for their drivers outside a shopping mall in Riyadh. © AFP/Getty Images
Having recently won the right to vote, Saudi women activists now are driving to end discrimination and demand all of their human rights.
Saudi women are responding positively to a royal decree granting them the right to vote, but they insist that they will not settle for partial rights. One of their most pressing targets is a continuing ban on their right to drive. “[Winning the vote] is a good sign, and we have to take advantage of it, but we still need more rights,” stated Maha al-Qahtani, one of the women who recently defied the ban on driving.
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There’s one thing more concerning than a government with a history of using security issues to justify human rights abuses passing a new anti-terrorism measure. What would be more scary is if that government passed new counter-terrorism legislation and then kept the details of the new law from the public.
That’s the situation in Saudi Arabia, where what we know of a draft anti-terrorism law comes only from a document leaked to Amnesty International. Under the draft law, the definition of terrorist crimes is so broad that legitimate dissent would, in effect, be criminalized. Authorities would be allowed to prosecute peaceful dissent with harsh penalties such as “terrorist crime.”
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After a violent fight broke out between two brothers two years ago in Saudi Arabia; one of the brothers was sentenced to seven months in prison during a trial where he did not receive legal representation. But the judge is thinking of adding another punishment — paralysis.
When one brother allegedly attacked the other with a cleaver, the victim was left paralyzed and in turn requested that the punishment for the aggressor resemble his injuries. The judge in Tabuk, in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, has contacted several hospitals, inquiring as to their capacity to damage the man’s spinal cord in such a way to mimic the injuries of the victim.
One hospital reportedly said it would be possible to medically administer the injury at the same place on the spinal cord as the damage the man is alleged to have caused his victim. The King Khalud Hospital released a medical report saying they could injure the spinal cord with a nerve stimulant causing paralysis .
We have urged the Saudi authorities to not deliberately paralyze the man as punishment as it is a retributive punishment resembling torture.
Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment are absolutely prohibited under international law and violates the United Nations Convention against Torture to which Saudi Arabia is a state party.
Saudi Arabia must not sentence this man to deliberate paralysis and adhere to international law regarding torture and inhumane punishment.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
President Obama has added Saudi Arabia to the list of countries he will be visiting this June. He reportedly will meet with King Abdullah to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Iran and terrorism. The Arab Peace Initiative, designed by King Abdullah, would grant Palestinians an independent state, settle the issue of Palestinian refugees and create a more peaceful environment between Middle Eastern states. It has also been embraced by the Obama team. The trip reflects a new commitment by the US government to work more closely with Arab countries on issues of peace and power.
Peace in the Middle East is a noble cause for the Obama administration. But as the Dalai Lama has said, “Peace can only last where human rights are respected.”
Saudi Arabia’s death row list is lengthy. Juveniles have been sentenced to death and now executed after unfair trial proceedings. There are also restrictions on freedom of speech and expression, with journalists threatened and censored by religious and political leaders alike.
While Saudi Arabia has made some strides on the human rights front, there is much more work to be done before a regional peace, built on respecting human rights, can stand. President Obama should take this opportunity to build a relationship based on human rights respect.