Published: Sun, April 07, 2019
Global News | By Blake Casey

Saudi Arabia detains supporters of women activists, including two U.S. citizens

Saudi Arabia detains supporters of women activists, including two U.S. citizens

The Saudi government descended upon eight citizens in the country, including two with dual USA citizenship for supporting women's rights, and also those who have criticised the kingdom's royal family after the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

Khadijah al-Harbi - A pregnant woman who is a women's rights activist and writer.

A person with knowledge of the apprehensions said Friday that the individuals arrested were not frontline activists, but instead writers and advocates who quietly supported greater social reforms in the kingdom.

The news of the arrests comes after USA lawmakers voted on Thursday to end military support for a Saudi-led war in neighbouring Yemen, which has triggered what the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

They were part of a group of 10 women's rights activists put on trial last month for on trial for charges related to their activism, which included campaigning for the right to drive before the ban was lifted previous year and calling for an end to guardianship laws that give men final say over a woman's right to marry or travel overseas.

Rights workers say the detained have all expressed support for a group of Saudi women activists, now on trial for allegedly defaming the kingdom over its treatment of women. At the same time, US Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Fernandez urged Energy Secretary Rick Perry in a letter on 2 April to not supply any nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia given Riyadh's troubling record, which includes the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. "This is a risky pattern".

Riyadh has faced pressure from major Western powers to release the women on trial, most of whom were detained last summer in a wide-ranging crackdown against activists just before the historic lifting of a decades-long ban on female motorists.

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A spokesman for the United States embassy in Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to a request to confirm the arrests of US citizens.

Three of them - activist Aziza al-Yousef, blogger Eman al-Nafjan and preacher Rokaya al-Mohareb - were granted temporary release last week.

Five other people close to the women have also been placed on a travel ban since February, they added. We thought that being silent would solve the issue.

How bad is it for critics in Saudi Arabia?

"It's all breaking my heart but in particular is I know Salah al-Haidar's family has already been thru so much after #Saudi feminist (Salah's mother) Aziza al-Yousef's arrest since May 2018", wrote Saudi-American Harvard PhD student Nora Abdulkarim in a tweet.

"We call on the authorities to immediately disclose the charges brought against those detained, and if they are detained for their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, then they should be released immediately and unconditionally". The Saudi Arabian government must reveal their whereabouts, ensure they are protected from torture and other ill-treatment, and allow them access to lawyers, as well as contact with their families.

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