At the beginning of December, NBC, BBC, and other news organizations reported that 25 year old Loujain al-Hathloul and 33-year-old Maysa al-Amoudi had been arrested at the Saudi border. Their crime? Driving while female.
The women have been in custody since, and it looks like their situation is going from bad to worse:
The cases of the two women, Loujain al-Hathloul and Maysa al-Amoudi, were sent to the antiterrorism court in connection with opinions they expressed on Twitter and other social media sites, according to four people close to them.
Hathloul and Amoudi are both activists in Saudi Arabia, working to challenge the prohibition against women driving. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to ban women from taking the wheel. As the New York Times notes, this prohibition is not managed through an official law, but Saudi Arabia does not grant driver’s licenses to women. Muslim clerics in the nation have been very vocal in their opposition to allowing women to drive.
Hathloul and Amoudi have taken to social media to express their own opposition to these bans. You know, the “terrorism” of having a different opinion than ultraconservative religious leaders.
This isn’t the first time Saudi Arabia applied such Orwellian terms to dissent, either.
The Specialized Criminal Court, to which their cases were referred, was established in the capital, Riyadh, to try terrorism cases but has also tried and given long prison sentences to a number of human rights workers, peaceful dissidents, activists and critics of the government.
Human Rights Watch recently warned that the “Saudi authorities are ramping up their crackdown on people who peacefully criticize the government on the Internet.” It said that judges and prosecutors are using “vague provisions of a 2007 anti-cybercrime law” to charge and try Saudi citizens for peaceful messages posted online.
It’s a common tactic of religious and other totalitarian powers, but as ever it says a lot about the fragility of your ideas when you need to charge non-violent dissenters like Loujain al-Hathloul and Maysa al-Amoudi with “terrorism.”