BREAKING: Activists who defied Saudi Arabia's ban on women drivers are behind bars and targeted by outrageous smear campaign. This flies in the face of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's pledges of "reform". Full @amnesty reaction coming soon pic.twitter.com/GnbWRXwkg1— amnestypress (@amnestypress) May 19, 2018
Saudi Arabia ended the ban on women’s driving that had been a longstanding stain on the country’s international image.
A month before the draconian ban on female drivers was scheduled to be lifted, the authorities in Saudi Arabia reportedly arrested at least ten prominent women’s rights activists. Seven of these activists are believed to be women, whereas three are men.
Ironically, the detainees reportedly don’t have access to lawyers.
According to sources, the activists were allowed to call their family members just once, however, one of the activists has been held entirely incommunicado.
The detentions reportedly began on May. 15, 2018 in Riyadh and the detainees were later taken to Jeddah. However, their current location remains to be unknown. The arrests were made by Presidency of State Security, a state agency that directly reports to the king and crown prince.
The detainees reportedly included women’s rights advocate Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef and Eman al-Nafjan, women who have long opposed the driving ban as well as the kingdom’s enduring guardianship laws.
Other activists included, Madeha al-Ajroush, Aisha al-Mana, Hessah al-Sheikh. The three activists are all in their 60s or 70s. In 1990, all three of the activists took part in the first women’s protest movement that campaigned for women’s right to drive.
Activists Ibrahim Al-Mudaimigh, Walaa Al-Shubbar, Mohammed Al-Rabae and Abdulaziz Al-Meshaal were also part of the detainees.
Not only were these activists reportedly accused of working “together in an organized manner to violate religious and national values” and having “suspicious communication with foreign agencies,” Saudi state media also didn’t waste much time discrediting these rights activists as “traitors.”
Seven of the detained activists were reportedly involved in the establishment of a non-government organization called “Amina.” The organization was aimed to provide shelter to women who suffer domestic abuse.
“His pledges amount to very little if those who fought for the right to drive are now all behind bars for peacefully campaigning for freedom of movement and equality,” said Samah Hadid, Amnesty's Mideast director.
The country’s interior ministry confirmed the arrests of activists in a tweet and said the arrested were accused of “suspiciously communicating with foreign parties” and providing financial support to “hostile elements abroad to undermine the security and stability of the kingdom.”
Last year, when the kingdom announced it would end the ban on women driving, the Saudi royal court contacted activists who had long campaigned for the cause and warned them not to speak to the media.
For more than 25 years, women activists have campaigned to be allowed to drive, defiantly taking to the road, petitioning the king and posting videos of themselves behind the wheel on social media.
These women are no less than icons of the ultraconservative kingdom’s suppressed females. The fact that these activists are not allowed to communicate in any way raises fear of torture and other ill-treatment.
The news of the arrests comes as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman makes significant changes in the kingdom’s policy for a much more modernized approach.
The kingdom saw its first cinema opening in decades, in a complete overhaul of usual Saudi social practices.
The country also commenced its first fashion week showcasing international designers and proposed a program that calls for an end to the draconian gender segregation that has been followed in the kingdom for a very long time.
However, all of the efforts to portray a modernized look of the kingdom go in vain with incidents like these that suppress females. These incidents also highlight a rather harsh reality of being a woman in the conservative kingdom.
Spotlight, Banner: Reuters, Reem Baeshen