Posted at 01:43 PM ET, 05/31/2011

Saudi Arabian woman driver freed after ‘quitting’ campaign


Manal al-Sharif in her driving video (Screengrab from YouTube)
A Saudi Arabian woman who was jailed for driving a car and encouraging other women to do so has been released after nine days.

The Saudi government says Manal al-Sharif has pledged to take no further part in an campaign to encourage Saudi women to drive on June 17.

A translated statement published by the al-Hayat newspaper said that Sharif felt “profound gratitude to King Abdullah” for freeing her.

But bloggers and women’s rights activists are saying Sharif likely didn’t repent, and if she did, she was forced to do so.

The contradicting statements raise a question about how much strong-arming is happening behind closed doors.

Sharif had galvanized support for Women2Drive through a YouTube video that showed her driving, Facebook groups, and her Twitter account, all of which had been deleted at some point by the government, according to members of the campaign.

After the government claimed last week that Sharif had repented for her campaign, a Saudi blogger in Riyadh, Eman Al Nafjan, said it was untrue.

“Manal’s support campaign and personal friends have denied all this and insist that Manal remains strong,” Nafjan wrote on her blog, Saudi Woman.

Wajeha al-Huwaider, a women's rights campaigner and friend of Sharif, agreed with Nafjan, telling the Guardian that she was certain Sharif was told to drop the issue as a condition of her release.

Saudi blogger Ahmed Al Omran, who writes on his blog Saudi Jeans from New York, where he is a graduate student at Columbia Journalism School, says Sharif’s statement does not say precisely that she is giving up the campaign.

“It is also interesting that while she thanks the king for ordering to release her, she does not apologize for her action,” Omran said.

Sharif’s translated statement reads: “Concerning the topic of women’s driving, I will leave it up to our leader in whose discretion I entirely trust, to weigh the pros and cons and reach a decision that will take into consideration the best interests of the people, while also being pleasing to Allah, and in line with divine law.”

Sharif’s lawyer insists Sharif had made the pledge herself.

“She wrote a pledge that she will not drive a car and after what has happened she has decided to give up the campaign and not be part of the protests.”

He said the authorities had not imposed the conditions, but Sharif had decided to make the pledge herself.

Sharif was freed from prison in Dammam Monday.

Her phone was switched off on Tuesday, according to the Guardian.

Watch an English version of Sharif’s driving video below:

By  |  01:43 PM ET, 05/31/2011

 
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