Saudi Arabia issues first driving licences to women

Move comes as the kingdom prepares to lift its decades-long ban on female drivers on June 24

Move comes as the kingdom prepares to lift its decades-long ban on female drivers on June 24

They each took a driving test and eye exam before being given the documents at the General Department of Traffic in the country's capital, Riyadh. While eight women's rights campaigners have been temporarily released, five men and four women remain in custody.

Loujain al-Hathloul, a well-known figure in the campaign for women's driving rights, was believed to be one of those held. "European and world leaders must not stay silent in the face of gross and systematic violations of the human rights of activists and human rights defenders", said the UK-based rights group in a statement.

Saudi women had also been banned from voting until 2015, when they were allowed to vote in local elections. They also "sought to recruit persons working in sensitive government posts as well as providing financial support to hostile elements overseas".

Wafa Mohammed Humaid enthusiastically shared her new ID calling it a historic day and is waiting for the next historic moment when women start to drive in the Kingdom.

Previous reports in state-backed media branded some of the detainees traitors and "agents of embassies".

Rothna Begum, a women's rights researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch, dismissed Monday's event as a publicity stunt meant to deflect criticism. The women were arrested, lost their jobs and had their passports confiscated for a year.

"It's welcomed that the Saudi authorities have finally issued licences to women, but the very women who campaigned for this for years are now behind bars instead of behind wheel", tweeted Samah Hadid, Amnesty International's Middle East director of campaigns.

Ultra-conservatives viewed women driving as immoral and warned they would be subject to sexual harassment if they drove.

"Driving to me represents having a choice - the choice of independent movement".

The woman was among nine others who were the first group of women allowed to obtain their licenses.

The prince has also tried to appeal to young Saudis by opening the country to more entertainment, allowing music concerts and opening the first commercial movie theater to Saudi Arabia this year.

Activists in the country are saying that this crackdown is unfairly targeting female activists that were active in the fight to lift the driving ban in the first place.

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