A female human rights activist in Saudi Arabia was detained and reportedly fined recently for driving herself to the hospital.
Aliyah al Farid is a Saudi businesswoman and member of Saudi Arabia’s National Society for Human Rights.
The day she was stopped by police she said she was having a medical emergency and couldn’t wait to find a male driver to take her to the hospital so she decided to drive her husband’s car herself.
There is no law against women driving in Saudi Arabia, according to ArabianBusiness.com. But social customs dictate that women are never given a driver’s license if they apply for one.
That is a sore spot among many Saudi women. Last year CNN reported that a handful of women in the country mounted a social media protest against the de facto ban by defiantly taking footage of themselves driving and posting the videos to sites like YouTube.
Adam Coogle, a Saudi Arabia researcher for Human Rights Watch, said at the time that he supported the women’s efforts to draw attention to the issue.
“It is shameful that a woman could be detained for activity that isn't illegal,” he said.
But al Farid said she was not protesting anything the day she was stopped; she just needed to get to the hospital.
“I didn’t do it on purpose and I’m not after fame or media hype. I was very sick and that was it,” she said, according to the Saudi Gazette.
She has been caught driving twice before. On this, her third time, she said police pulled her over and she explained she was suffering a medical emergency. They let her drive on, but followed her to the hospital and waited.
When she was released from the hospital, four traffic police vehicles were waiting for her. The police took her to the local traffic station. They insisted that she pay a fine and that her husband pick her up from the station. They also asked that she sign a document promising not to drive anymore. She refused.
Al Farid owns and operates a center that cares for people with special needs. She said her responsibilities there kept her from signing the document.
“We can’t leave an epileptic patient convulsing on the ground while waiting for our male driver to come and transport him to hospital,” she explained. “I have to get behind the steering wheel and do it.”