UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY) – International human rights groups have condemned the detention of at least seven women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia who had previously demanded the right of women to drive, which the kingdom is due to give out next month.
He hailed the decision to end a decades-long ban on women driving cars as evidence of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s new progress, but the decision was accompanied by a crackdown on opponents.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on the authorities to release the detainees and identified six of them, namely Eman al-Nafjan, Lajin al-Hathul, Azizah al-Yousef, Aisha al-Mana, Ibrahim al-Mumeimig and Muhammad al-Rubiah. They are active in the field of women’s rights.
The authorities said in a statement that they were still trying to identify others suspected of involvement in activities to “bypass religious and national constants.” Activists said others were detained but the total was not immediately known.
“It seems that the only crime committed by these activists is that their desire to see women drive ahead of Mohammed bin Salman,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director of Human Rights Watch.
Women will be allowed to drive as of June 24. But activists and analysts say the government is keen not to reward the work of banned activists in the kingdom. The authorities also aim to avoid raising the sensitivity of religious conservatives opposed to modernization.
The government statement said seven people had been arrested, who had contacted the foreign suspects and provided financial support to hostile elements abroad. The statement did not give details.
The state security spokesman did not specify the identity of the detainees, but the news site, seen as close to the authorities, linked them to the arrest of women’s rights activists.
Amnesty International denounced what it described as a public defamation campaign by Saudi authorities and government media to discredit the activists whose faces appeared on the Internet and on the front pages of newspapers as traitors.
In addition to demanding women’s right to leadership, Iman al-Nafjan and Lajeen al-Hathul signed a petition in 2016 calling for the termination of the men’s mandate system, which requires women to obtain the consent of a male relative in important decisions. Jane Al-Hathul was arrested at least twice for her activities.
Women who had previously been involved in protests against the ban on women driving a car told Reuters last year that more than 20 activists had received phone calls asking them not to comment on the decree lifting the ban. Some were arrested this week.