09/28/2011, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA
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Woman sentenced to 10 lashes for driving through the streets of Jeddah:

Only men are allowed behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia. This is the first sentence imposed by a judge, in the past women were arrested for few days, then released. Women's rights movement announces an appeal. For activists, the sentence shows the gap between promises and reality of openness of an ultra-conservative society.
Jeddah (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A Saudi court has punished a woman in Jeddah with 10 lashes, because she has broken the law prohibiting the fairer sex to drive cars. Shema Ghassaniya - this is her name - was caught last July at the wheel of a car. The ruling was passed on 26 September and is the first sentence of flogging; other women in recent months - especially activists, engaged in a campaign for civil rights - have been imprisoned for a few days, but none of them were later indicted by the judges. The trial and sentencing reveal the deep gap between the image that the kingdom shows to the international community - including the recent opening of King Abdullah to the vote for women - and the reality of the facts, a reflection of an ultra-conservative society.

In recent months, groups of Saudi women have captured the attention of the world's media, posting videos on the Internet filmed when they were at the wheel of a car. An act prohibited in a state in which there is a strict version of Sunni Islam (Wahhabi), where females can not drive vehicles, leave the house or the country, get married or be hospitalized in a hospital without the authorization of a male "guide "(mahram). Women2drive movement, which campaigns for the issuing of licenses to women, has already announced an appeal against the sentence.

The sentence to 10 lashes for Shema Ghassaniya comes just two days after the Saudi monarch's speech on television, where he announced the possibility for universal suffrage for women, as of 2015, and their right to stand for municipal elections. King Abdullah also said that they will have the right to be appointed members of the Shura Consultative Council, the body which advises the king's absolute power, and which has the right to propose laws.

Human rights activists and women's movements emphasize the huge gap between the alleged openings of the conservative Saudi leadership and the reality of the facts. While women are promised the chance to vote, in fact the repression of any attempt at female emancipation continues. According to critics the monarch’s "concessions" are only an attempt to avoid facing the population, in the wake of the Arab Spring, which has already swept through other nations of the Middle East.
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