Two women from the United Arab Emirates are on trial after falling foul of the repressive rules which women in Saudi Arabia are governed by.
Lujain al-Hathlool, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, have been detained for nearly a month after driving into Saudi Arabia from their home country, the Times reports.
They are currently appealing against plans by the state to try them as terrorists and have been charged with “inciting public opinion”. There are concerns regarding their welfare and right to a fair trial after they were transferred to a court in the capital Riyadh which was set up to try members of al-Qaeda.
Ms Hathlool was arrested on 30th November after driving across the border from her home country. Her friend, Ms Amoudi, was detained the next day after driving into the Islamic Kingdom to bring her friend a blanket and supplies while she was incarcerated.
A source close to the case said people were “shocked” at the treatment and threats the women are facing.
“No one can understand why the government is pursuing the case like this. Saudi Arabia has bigger problems to deal with but Lujain and Maysa are seen as a threat” they said.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to ban women from driving. A campaign was started in 2011 to overturn the ban and women arrested for being behind the wheel of a vehicle have been dealt with comparatively leniently.
At a hearing on Christmas Day, a judge decided that the charges were so serious that the case should be referred to the terrorist court. An appeal will be heard within days.
One local activist who did not want to be named for their safety said, “Every day brings worse news. When she was first arrested, the inspector told Lujain she would be out in five days. This is unheard of. The case should never have got this far.”
A previous sentence of flogging, given to a young woman driver in 2011, was overturned by King Abdullah, Another woman has been given a suspended jail term and dozens of others given fines or warnings.
The campaign, Women2Drive, shows no signs of flagging with female protesters regularly taking to the road to demonstrate against the ban. They film themselves at the wheel and post the videos online although currently, the government appears unmoved.
In 1957, Riyadh pronounced the ban on women driving. As of 2012, women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are limited compared to international standards that have prevailed for the last century.
In 1990, dozens of women in the capital drove their cars in protest against the driving ban. They were imprisoned for one day, had their passports confiscated, and some of them lost their jobs.
The court the two women look to be sent to recently sentenced a man to death over killing BBC cameraman Simon Cumbers in 2004. Back in April, prominent human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair was jailed for 15 years on the same charges facing the women.
Christoph Wilcke, of Human Rights Watch, said: “The trial of peaceful reformers in a terrorism court underlines the political nature of this court.”