In wake of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s effort to cultivate a modern image of Saudi Arabia, the kingdom ended the ban on women driving that had been a longstanding stain on the country’s international image.
Now, the orders of lifting the ban are expected to be implemented next month. However, at least five activists who campaigned to end the ban have reportedly been detained.
Among those who were detained, included women who challenged the kingdom by getting in cars and driving. The men who supported these women were also reportedly detained.
The detentions that reportedly began on May. 15, 2018 included Loujain al-Hathloul. According to her associates, she was arrested by security forces in the United Arab Emirates where she was studying and was forcefully brought back to the kingdom.
Other detained activists include Aziza al-Yousef and Eman al-Nafjan, women who have long opposed the driving ban as well as the kingdom’s enduring guardianship laws.
Hathloul’s lawyer, Ibrahim Mudaimeegh, was also detained.
This was not Hathloul’s first arrest. In 2014, she was arrested by authorities after she drove to the Saudi border from the U.A.E. She was 25-years-old at that time and was held in juvenile detention for 73 days.
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.”
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.
Women in the kingdom are legally subject to a male guardian, who must give approval to basic decisions they make in fields including education, employment, marriage, travel plans and even medical treatment.
“Crown Prince Mohammed 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,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at the watchdog.
She added, “The message is clear that anyone expressing skepticism about the crown prince’s rights agenda faces time in jail.”
The news of the arrests comes as 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 kingdom for a very long time.
Banner / Thumbnail : Reuters, Faisal Al Nasser