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Saudi Arabia steps up arrests of women’s rights advocates: activists

RIYADH: Saudi authorities have widened a crackdown on women’s rights advocates, detaining at least three more activists a month before the kingdom lifts its ban on women drivers, campaigners said Tuesday.

Saudi authorities on Saturday announced the arrest of seven people, who rights groups identified mostly as women who have long campaigned for the right to drive.

Amnesty International told AFP the number of detained has risen to 10, including at least seven women, while the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and another Saudi activist said the number stood at 12.

“Despite international outcry and calls for the release of these activists, they still remain detained for their peaceful human rights work,” said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of campaigns.

“Saudi Arabian authorities cannot continue to publicly state they are dedicated to reform, while treating women’s rights campaigners in this cruel way.”

Saudi government officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Without naming those detained, authorities have accused the detained of “suspicious contact with foreign parties”, providing financial support to enemies and “attempting to undermine the security and stability of the kingdom”.

State-backed media branded them traitors and “agents of embassies”.

The crackdown comes as the kingdom breaks with long-held restrictions on women and the mixing of the genders, with its driving ban on women slated to end June 24.

The detainees include outspoken activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who was also held in 2014 for more than 70 days for attempting to drive from neighbouring United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia, and Aziza al-Yousef, a retired professor at Riyadh’s King Saud University.

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