Several women's rights activists have been detained in Saudi Arabia ahead of the implementation of a historic reform which will allow women to drive.
Prominent activists Loujain al-Hathloul and Eman al-Nafjan, who both campaigned against Saudi Arabia’s driving ban on women and for an end to the male guardianship, are reportedly among the group of at least nine women who were arrested.
Human rights organizations, outside Saudi Arabia, said most of the women were warned against commenting on the lifting of the ban on female drivers and anti-guardianship campaign. Saudi Arabia’s controversial guardianship system requires women to obtain permission from their fathers, brothers, husbands or sons to conduct various activities.
“Saudi feminists are timidly returning to agitating on Twitter,” Saudi-American women’s activist and blogger Nora Abdulkarim tweeted. “Some show support for arrested activists, some not. For 1st time in anti-guardianship campaign, very intimidating to speak.”
According to officials from the human rights organization, the women being held are victims.
“This chilling smear campaign is an extremely worrying development for women human rights defenders and activists in Saudi Arabia. Such blatant intimidation tactics are entirely unjustifiable,” Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Campaigns, remarked.
The Saudi Kingdom’s state security confirmed that seven people were arrested on suspicion of working with“foreign entities,” actively trying to recruit people in sensitive government positions as well as providing money to foreign entities to destabilize the Arab nation.
Over the past seven years, the courts have convicted nearly 30 well-known activists and dissidents, Human Rights Watch disclosed, adding that some received prison sentences of at least 10 years on charges that include "breaking allegiance with the ruler" and "inciting public opinion."
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman issued a royal decree last September granting women the right to drive cars. The first licenses are due to be issued on June 24.
“Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s ‘reform campaign’ has been a frenzy of fear for genuine Saudi reformers who dare to advocate publicly for human rights or women’s empowerment,” Middle East Human Rights Watch director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said in a statement.
“The message is clear that anyone expressing skepticism about the crown prince’s rights agenda faces time in jail.”
Other recent reforms have allowed women to attend sporting events, apply for government jobs and go to the cinema.