Muslim Times(Web Desk) – Saudi authorities have arrested seven prominent female activists who campaigned for women’s right to drive, just weeks before the ultraconservative kingdom is to lift its decades-long ban on women driving.
The revelation was made by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Saturday, with reports indicating that the reasons behind the arrests were not clear.
HRW said the activists notified the watchdog in September 2017 that “the royal court had called the country’s prominent activists … and warned them not to speak to the media.”
“The calls were made the same day the authorities announced that they would lift the driving ban on women,” HRW added.
The activists were taken into custody as Saudi Arabia prepares for the ban on women driving to come to an end on June 24.
This is while reforms pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have been accompanied by heavy-handed crackdown on dissent against Saudi critics, ranging from clerics to some of the very female activists who campaigned for years to end the ban.
“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 HRW.
“It appears the only ‘crime’ these activists committed was wanting women to drive before Mohammed bin Salman did,” she noted.
Speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, one of the rights activists said the latest arrests were tied to advocacy for women driving, arguing that the authorities detained them “because they do not want them to publicly claim success.”
Saudi Arabia is the last country in the world to permit women to obtain driving licenses.
In September last year, Riyadh removed the driving ban on women as part of reforms to undo the damage the ultraconservative kingdom has suffered for decades of human rights violations both inside and outside of Saudi Arabia.
The move came shortly after women were also permitted access into a sports stadium, for the first time, to watch a concert.
In 2016, Saudi Arabia was ranked 141 out of 144 on the Global Gender Gap Index.
In recent years, the Al Saud regime has come under intense pressure by rights groups for mistreating women.
Saudi women banned from voting until 2015, when they were allowed to vote in local elections.