Saudi activist cancels US trip over death threats

Manal al-Sharif has become a global symbol of the struggle for gender equality in the Middle East.

Riyadh: A Saudi woman, who defied the country’s ban on female drivers, has cancelled a planned trip to the United States after receiving multiple death threats.

Manal al-Sharif became a global symbol of the struggle for gender equality in the Middle East after a video of her driving through the streets of Khobar was uploaded to YouTube last April.

She was later arrested and imprisoned for nine days.

On Wednesday this week, she had been due to be honoured for her high-profile activism at an awards ceremony in Washington organised by Vital Voices, a US-based pressure group.

But 48 hours before the event, organisers were told that Sharif had reluctantly decided to stay in Saudi Arabia, amid what appears to be growing fears for both her personal safety and that of her family, the Independent reports.

According to the paper, al-Sharif also learnt that she is the subject of a fatwa issued by a fundamentalist Muslim cleric.

In an e-mail, she said a recent filmed speaking appearance at the Oslo Freedom Forum, a human rights conference held annually in Norway, had brought a slew of threats from conservatives angered by her feminist critique of Saudi Arabia’s highly-repressive laws and social conventions.

“Threats I was faced with after speaking in Oslo made me take the decision to keep a low profile to be able to prepare for the first anniversary of 17 June,” she said.

According to the paper, this was not the first time Sharif has been targeted for her activism.

Last month, she revealed how her growing political profile had led to her losing a job at Aramco, a Saudi-controlled oil company where she had worked in information security for more than a decade.


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