A Saudi human rights activist was detained because she questioned the kingdom for normalizing its diplomatic ties with Israel.
The arrest comes as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (aka MBS) continues to publicize the notion of a moderate Islam, claiming women will be given more rights.
Despite repeated assurances, Saudi authorities didn't refrain from arresting Noha al-Balawi, a prominent feminist, because she questioned the kingdom's changing foreign policies.
Al-Balawi, from Tabuk, has been held in detention for 17 days since her arrest on Jan. 23, according to ALQST, a U.K.-based group that focuses on human rights in Saudi Arabia. She may have to serve five years in prison.
Police allegedly questioned her about the videos she posted on her Twitter account.
“Normalization means accepting the occupation," al-Balawi declared in a video clip been circulated online. She was referring to Israel’s control over Palestine.
"Let me make it clear; we will never recognize Israel no matter what it will cost us.
"There is not a single benefit for Arabs when we normalize relations with Israel. It only serves the best interests of the Zionist state," she added.
Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel as a legitimate state. But the growing influence of Iran, a common enemy, in the region has reportedly helped thaw relations between the two countries.
“She is very vocal on Twitter and Snapchat, she advocates for women’s rights and women who drive. She asked to represent the people and the country in Parliament,” Yahya Assiri, director of the London-based human rights group Alqst, told Newsweek. “They don’t want activists to get involved. Women haven’t had any rights until now, and they are still arresting people.”
According to ALQST, al-Balawi was also probed over her activism for women's right to drive, which is unusual because the country has already announced women will be permitted to drive from June this year.
Al-Balawi’s case was reportedly referred by an investigating officer to the country’s cybercrime law. According to article 6 of the law, a person "who creates or transmits anything prejudicial to public order" could face up to five years in jail, and/or a fine of up to $800,000.
According to the group, the activist's arrest was an “obvious attempt” to silence public opinion, as her activism "is legitimate civil and human rights work," and that authorities "have no right to arrest, detain or punish her for such activity."
The group is now demanding her “immediate and unconditional release," and for authorities to restore her accounts on social media.
However, as with most trials in Saudi Arabia, the details of al-Balawi’s case are still not known.
The activist's Twitter account was suspended after her arrest.
Thumbnail/Banner: Reuters, Stephane Mahe