Saudi woman driver released from jail after nine days

RIYADH // After nine days in prison for her role in promoting a national campaign by Saudi women demanding the right to drive, Manal al Sharif was released yesterday evening.

Ms al Sharif, a 32-year-old computer security specialist, was detained on May 22 after she defied a ban on female drivers and posted a video of her behind the wheel on YouTube. She also uploaded a second video explaining how the campaign, planned for June 17, would work.

Ms al Sharif, who is divorced and has a five-year-old son, was charged with "inciting women to drive" and "rallying public opinion", according to her lawyer, Adnan Al Saleh. It is not clear if those charges have been formally dropped or if her case is still under investigation.

A condition of her release is that she return for questioning if so requested, according to another attorney familiar with her case, Waleed Abu Al Khair.

Mr al Khair also said that Ms al Sharif was warned not to drive or talk to the media. Mr al Saleh declined to speculate on why his client was released. Earlier, he told local media that Ms al Sharif had sent a letter to King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz seeking her freedom.

More than 4,500 Saudis had signed an online petition to the king to free her. Her release comes after an outpouring of indignation and disbelief by both Saudis and critics abroad that Ms al Sharif was jailed for something that is not a moral or criminal offence. It merely violates a long-held but divisive custom in the kingdom.

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