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Saudi Arabia widens crackdown on women's rights activists

24 May 2018

'There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the absence of almost 30 days of Muhammad bin Sulman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, is due to an incident which is being hidden from the public, ' Kayhan claimed.

But "unless there is ironclad evidence against these women", Haykel warns, the arrests and trials "do not inspire confidence in the West that the country is headed in the right direction".

Amnesty International says Prince Mohammed's promises of reform "fall flat amid the intensifying crackdown on dissenting voices in the kingdom". Expanding freedoms accorded to women, including the historic decision to lift the world's only ban on women driving, has been a pillar of the re-branding of Saudi Arabia that has accompanied the rise of the new Crown Prince Mohamad Bin Salman.

The prince also warned that Europe and the U.S. would have to "foot the bill" of the collapse of the Saudi state, which he said is the direction the country is headed.

Charged with vague and broadened definitions of terrorism, those arrested are often forgotten by Saudi society, which, at the moment, is filled with intense nationalist pride and is cheering on their young crown prince for his bold reforms.

People familiar with the arrests say the activists were allowed just one phone call to anxious relatives a week ago, and that one of the women has been held entirely incommunicado.

Activists say al-Mudaimigh, who ran his own practice, was one of the few lawyers in Saudi Arabia willing to defend human rights activists since others have either fled or been detained. A statement issued the following day by the Presidency of the State Security - which reports directly to the king's office - said they faced charges for "suspicious contact with foreign parties" and undermining the "security and stability" of the state.

"It is clear that underneath all the PR hype and spin, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's reforms exclude human rights activism", Hadid said.

On Wednesday, HRW cited Saudi activists as saying at least another four other women's rights defenders were now being held, bringing the total number to at least 11.

Saudi authorities detained al-Hathloul, 28, in November 2014, as she attempted to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates while live-streaming to bring global attention to the issue. Activists say al-Hathloul was arrested again in June of past year in connection with her advocacy. She went on to add that one of the reasons the round-up happened is so that when the ban is lifted on June 24, with the world's eyes on the Kingdom, officials can live without the fear that the activists might take away the limelight.

The detainees include three generations of activists such as 28-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul - who was also held in 2014 for more than 70 days for attempting to drive from neighbouring UAE to Saudi Arabia - and Aziza al-Yousef, a retired professor at Riyadh's King Saud University.

A Saudi woman drives her auto in Jeddah.

"Loujain, Aziza and other activists who use their real identities are very fearless", said the Saudi activist, who has campaigned online anonymously.

Pro-government media outlets have splashed some of the women's photos online and in newspapers, accusing them of being traitors and of belonging to a "spy cell".

To make matters worse, the arrests of Saudi free thinkers have been made in the name of national security.

The country also commenced its first fashion week showcasing worldwide 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.

Saudi Arabia widens crackdown on women's rights activists