JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia should "immediately" release a woman jailed for breaking the kingdom's ban on women driving, Human Rights Watch said in a statement that also criticised the ban itself.
"King Abdullah should immediately order the release of Manal al-Sharif, who was arrested ... after she defied the kingdom's de facto ban on driving by women," New York-based HRW said in a statement received by AFP on Tuesday, referring to the Saudi monarch.
"Arresting a woman who drove her family around in a car and then showed it online opens Saudi Arabia to condemnation -- and, in fact, to mockery -- around the world," HRW senior Middle East researcher Christoph Wilcke said in the statement.
"King Abdullah should end Saudi Arabia's pariah status in the world as the sole country banning women from driving," Wilcke said.
"Just as his predecessors made their mark by introducing education for girls, King Abdullah can shape his legacy by opening the roads to women drivers."
Manal al-Sharif was arrested on Saturday while driving in the Eastern Province city of Al-Khobar, a day after she posted a footage on the video-sharing website YouTube showing her behind the wheel. Although traffic police released her after a few hours, the 32-year-old computer security consultant was later re-apprehended from her home by criminal investigation police, her lawyer Adnan al-Saleh said.
"She has been charged with spurring women to drive, on the Internet, and inciting public opinion," he told AFP by telephone on Monday, after meeting Sharif in prison.
He said police ordered her to remain in custody for five days pending further investigations. In addition to not being allowed to drive, women in Saudi Arabia are banned from travelling without authorisation from a male guardian. They are also obliged to cover from head to toe when in public.