Monday 23 September 2019

More women's rights activists are arrested in new Saudi crackdown

Detainees include Loujain al-Hathloul, videoed flouting the driving ban in 2014. Image: AP Photo/Loujain al-Hathloul
Detainees include Loujain al-Hathloul, videoed flouting the driving ban in 2014. Image: AP Photo/Loujain al-Hathloul

Sarah Dadouch Riyadh

Saudi Arabia has arrested at least three more women's rights activists in a widening crackdown just weeks before a ban on women driving is set to end, international rights watchdogs said yesterday.

Rights groups last week reported the detention of seven activists, mostly women who previously campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom's male guardianship system, which requires women to obtain the consent of a male relative for major decisions.

The government later announced that seven people were arrested for suspicious contacts with foreign entities and offering financial support to "enemies overseas".

Those held include Loujain al-Hathloul who has publicly opposed the driving ban.

State-backed media labelled those held as traitors and "agents of embassies", unnerving diplomats in Saudi Arabia, a key US ally, with some likening it to repression in neighbouring Egypt and saying their governments would privately discuss the issue with Saudi authorities.

"These actions are inconsistent with messages of reform on which western support for Vision 2030 is based," one diplomat said, referring to Saudi Arabia's ambitious social and economic reform agenda. "These actions will have consequences."

Official criticism by foreign governments has been scant. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has courted western allies to support his reforms. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments were discussed during trips to the US and Europe.

Amnesty International said seven women and two men were now being held, in addition to "one unidentified activist". Human Rights Watch confirmed that total. One activist said 11 people had been arrested - seven women and four men. "We call on the authorities to reveal the whereabouts of these individuals and reveal the charges," said Samah Hadid, Amnesty's Middle East director of campaigns.

Government spokesmen were not immediately available for comment on the reports.

Ending a decades-old ban on women driving cars is part of a bid to diversify the economy away from oil and open up Saudis' cloistered lifestyles. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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