In one incident, first reported on Facebook by Saudi journalist Jamal Banoon, four young women driving in the Dorat Al Aroos area of Jeddah were arrested by agents of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, Saudi Arabia's religious police. The women were taken to a criminal investigations unit. In a second incident that night a woman driving in downtown Jeddah was suddenly surrounded by four police cars and taken into custody for driving. Her car was confiscated, according to the conservative Saudi news site SABQ . It is not clear whether or not the five women are still in detention, and there have been no reports of their whereabouts since.
The incidents mark a significant departure from the hands-off approach Saudi police have taken since women's rights activists launched a nationwide right-to-drive campaign on June 17.
Saudi Women for Driving, a coalition of leading Saudi women's rights activists that has already recruited 160,000 people in 156 countries to support Saudi women's right to drive, are demanding the immediate release of all five women through an emergency call on Change.org , the world's fastest growing platform for social change.
"While the status of these five women is not yet clear, one thing is: the Saudi police decided to wait a few weeks before cracking down in the hope that international attention on the ban on women driving would subside," Saudi Women for Driving said in a statement released by Change.org. "If Saudi police think arresting women drivers is going to stop what has already become the largest women's rights movement in Saudi history, they are sorely mistaken. On the contrary, these arrests will encourage more women to get behind the wheel in direct defiance of this ridiculous abuse of our most basic human rights."
The arrest of Manal Al-Sharif, a Saudi mother jailed for driving her own car in late May, sparked a massive international outcry and inspired dozens of women across the country to simply start driving.
Saudi Women for Driving has since launched a series of viral international campaigns on Change.org, including two successful campaigns to pressure U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her E.U. counterpart Catherine Ashton to publicly support Saudi women's right to drive. After initially refusing to make a public statement, Secretary Clinton agreed to do so two hours after reading an open letter from Saudi Women for Driving and delivered by Change.org in which they reject the State Department's "quiet diplomacy." Their latest high-profile campaign , launched last week on Change.org, calls on car manufacturer Subaru to pull out of Saudi Arabia until women are given the right to drive.
"The momentum these Saudi women have built in one month is incredible," said Change.org's founder Ben Rattray. "First they successfully mobilized to help a Saudi mother arrested for driving her own car, then they successfully led a month-long campaign to get the United States' top diplomat to publicly stand with them, and now they are launching an emergency campaign to get five women out of jail. It's a historic moment for Saudi women's rights, and Change.org is honored to be part of this landmark movement."
Saudi Women for Driving's campaign to release Saudi women drivers: