Although women in Saudi Arabia are often subjected to arrests over driving cars, Aliyah Al Farid’s case has prompted furious backlash, because her’s was an emergency case.
A businesswoman and member of the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR), Al Farid suffers from a chronic condition that forces frequent hospital visits.
Unable to find a male chaperon, the woman ventured outside in her husband’s car to a nearby hospital but was caught by police during her journey, according to Al-Hayat daily and the Saudi Gazette.
When Aliyah explained her situation to the officers, they agreed that she could drive to hospital on the condition that she would go to the local traffic department with them after tending to her health.
And she did.
"I told the traffic officers that I had to drive because it was an emergency case,” she told reporters in a briefing.
"I didn’t do it on purpose and I’m not after fame or media hype. I was very sick and that was it."
Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive cars, or even ask for a driver’s license from the government.
"There are no laws here that ban women from driving cars on the road," Aliyah said, adding she had refused to agree to a police request to never drive again.
Intermittent protests against the driving ban occur routinely in the country but almost all of them fail due to severe reactions from the authorities, who are strongly opposed to women driving.
The first such protest was reported in 1990 in Riyadh when dozens of women came out on the roads, driving cars. The participants were jailed for a day, their passports were confiscated and many of them lost their jobs.
Similar attempts to defy the driving ban also ended up in arrests with penalties, including fines.
Aliyah Al-Farid, who also runs a facility where people with special needs are cared for, frequently needs to rush her patients to the hospital.
"We can’t leave an epileptic patient convulsing on the ground while waiting for our male driver to come and transport him to hospital," she told the newspaper.
"I have to get behind the steering wheel and do it."