In Brief

Saudis could still flog woman who dared to drive car

Supposedly pardoned, Shaima Jastaniya could yet punished after Crown Prince's intervention

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A SAUDI woman sentenced to ten lashes for flouting the country's ban on women driving has not been officially pardoned, despite reports to the contrary - and her sentence may still be carried out at any time.

Shaima Jastaniya, 34, was given the draconian sentence by a court in Jedda in September after she persistently ignored the ban, which is not enshrined in law but handed down in fatwas by Muslim clerics, making Saudi Arabia the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive.

Then 87-year-old King Adbullah, who has overseen a gentle thawing of his hardline rule in recent years, announced he had pardoned Jastaniya – a move much reported in the world's media.

Now The Times reports that the increasingly powerful – and conservative – Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz has exerted his influence to make sure Abdullah’s pardon has no real force.

Jastaniya's father was summoned to the Interior Ministry last week, the paper reports, to be told that his daughter was pardoned. However, when he asked for written guarantees that she would not be flogged, his request was refused.

The newspaper says it has learned that the original punishment could still be carried out at any time – and the verdict has not been overturned. Activist Mohammed al-Qahtani told the paper: "They will keep this hanging over her in case she does anything else."

Jastaniya has become the focal point for a campaign of civil disobedience by women drivers which culminated in a 'mass drive' where 50 women flouted the ban in convoy, writing about it later on social networking sights.

Aware that it was the focus of world attention, the authorities let the protest go ahead unhindered. It seemed like a watershed moment, but there has been a quiet crackdown since.

One woman activist in Riyadh told the Times anonymously: "The campaign is dying right now. People are afraid. They have seen what happened to Shaima and the others."

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