A WOMAN in Saudi Arabia may still be flogged for defying a ban on women driving - even though King Abdullah has pardoned her.
Shaima Jastaniya, 34, was sentenced to 10 lashes by a court in the Red Sea port of Jedda in September for persistently flouting the ban.
The case sparked outrage among human rights activists and reignited a fierce debate over women's rights in the conservative kingdom. A new report has warned that the country would become a den of vice if the ban were lifted.
Ms Jastaniya's sentence became a cause celebre within the royal family when it emerged two months ago. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a billionaire entrepreneur who is Saudi Arabia's richest man, made a personal appeal to the king and his wife, Princess Ameerah, to spare the young mother.
The elderly monarch agreed, and the royal couple telephoned Ms Jastaniya to reassure her that the charges would be dropped. But no one seems to have informed the court in Jedda, and it has now notified her that the sentence will stand.
Ms Jastaniya has appealed against the verdict, but there are fears that ultra-conservatives within the government want to make an example of her. Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz, the newly appointed Crown Prince, is more conservative than his half-brother the king, and has been vocal in his opposition to granting women greater freedoms. Two female Saudi journalists are being sued for reporting on the case, and at least three other women face trial for driving.
"Shaima is frightened and very confused," said a friend and fellow activist in Jedda. "She thought that this was finished, but apparently not. It was bad enough that she was sentenced, but if she is pardoned and still gets punished it would be ridiculous."
Saudi Arabia is the only country to deny women the right to drive. But despite renewed protests against the ban this year, resistance to change remains strong among conservative royals and clerics.
A report this week by Kamal Subhi, a former professor at King Fahd University, warned that allowing women to drive would provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce. Within 10 years of the ban being lifted, it warned, there would be "no more virgins" in the kingdom.
Mr Subhi, who sent his report to all 150 members of the Shura Council, the country's legislative body, said moral decline was already discernible in other Gulf states where women were allowed to drive.http://www.theaustralian....ry-e6frg6so-1226195990330
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