Saudi Arabia arrested 10 activists who campaigned for women’s rights to drive just weeks before it plans to lift the ban on driving

  • Authorities in Saudi Arabia detained several women’s rights activists who campaigned for women’s driving rights just weeks before the country is set to lift the ban on women driving.
  • At least 10 women’s prominent rights activists have been arrested in the last week.
  • Saudi Arabia is set to lift its driving restriction on June 24.

Authorities in Saudi Arabia arrested several women’s rights activists who campaigned for women’s driving rights just weeks before the country is set to lift its long-standing ban on female drivers.

At least 10 prominent women’s rights activists have been arrested since May 15, according to rights groups.

Human Rights Watch reported last week on the arrests of seven men and women all tied to previous campaigns aimed at allowing women the right to drive. At least three more have been arrested as the crackdown widens, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch told Reuters.

Saudi state media has been quick to brand the activists as “traitors,” and accused them of forming a “cell” in conjunction with foreign agents, Amnesty International said.

The government first announced it would lift its ban on women driving in September, and is set to come into effect on June 24. Critics of the ban say it is symbolic of Saudi Arabia’s strong patriarchal society, an image which Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is rapidly trying to change with his Vision2030 modernization efforts.

And while the nation was celebrating the abolishment of the ban, the government was doubling down on activists who had fought for the right.

Activists told the Journal that on the day of the announcement they received calls from the Saudi government banning them from speaking to the media or even praising the move.

“We were told: ‘Don’t talk. We don’t want you to comment positively or negatively. Don’t do it, don’t give interviews,”‘ an unnamed activist told the Journal.

Activists said the recent crackdown is aimed at preventing anyone from claiming credit for the government’s decision to lift the ban.

“They put pressure on the government and the government is still angry, even if it has accepted that women will be allowed to drive,” another activist told the Journal. “Women will drive soon, and they don’t want anyone who can comment.”

Among those detained this week are Loujain al-Hathloul, a well-known young activist who spent 73 days in jail for defying the ban in 2014. Two other women, aged 63 and 70, helped organize the first driving protests in 1990.

Saudi’s Press Agency said the activists were arrested for having “dared to violate the country’s religious and national pillars through making suspected contacts in support of the activities of foreign circles.” The statement also said those detained sought to “destabilize the Kingdom.”