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(Beirut) – Major car companies should call on Saudi authorities to unconditionally release at least nine detained women activists who fought for the right to drive, said Human Rights Watch said in a campaign announced today.

The campaign, which starts on September 11, 2018, urges people to encourage the automobile companies to support the release of the unjustly detained women in Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch opened the campaign after contacting the companies to urge them to act on behalf of the jailed women. None have done so.


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“The auto industry stands to make millions of dollars now that the Saudis have allowed women to drive and become car owners,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The companies should speak out for these women who are unjustly behind bars awaiting trial and whose years of activism have created a lucrative new market for the car companies.”

PriceWaterhouseCoopers estimated that the impact of lifting the ban is significant. Car sales in Saudi Arabia are expected to grow by 9 percent annually and leasing by 4 percent annually until 2025. By 2020, an anticipated about 20 percent of women in the country will be driving. The market could be worth almost 30 billion Saudi Riyals (about US$8 billion) by 2020.

This does not include all the other businesses that will benefit – the insurance companies, mechanics, and others needed to keep more drivers on the roads.

On May 15, 2018, just weeks before the Saudi authorities lifted the ban on June 24, they opened a large-scale coordinated crackdown against the women’s rights movement. They have arrested at least 13 prominent women’s rights activists and accused several of them of grave crimes that appear to be directly related to their activism. At least nine women remain detained without charge, though some anticipated charges could carry prison terms of up to 20 years. The nine are Loujain al-HathloulAziza al-YousefEman al-NafjanNouf AbdelazizMayaa al-ZahraniHatoon al-FassiSamar BadawiNassema al-Sadah, and Amal al-Harbi.

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