Saudi Arabia releases four women′s rights activists after crackdown | News | DW | 25.05.2018
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Saudi Arabia releases four women's rights activists after crackdown

Rights groups have called on Saudi authorities to release all activists arrested for campaigning for women's rights. The kingdom's reforms have come under fire for not doing enough to protect activists.

Campaigners on Friday said at least four women's rights advocates have been released from jail after nearly a dozen activists were arrested last week.

Saudi authorities said at least seven of them had been arrested for "attempting to undermine the security and stability of the kingdom," adding that they had offered financial support to "enemies overseas."

However, rights groups believe the arrests were meant to be a warning against pushing beyond the government's reformist agenda. The arrests came a month before a driving ban on women is set to be lifted, a cause that all 11 activists campaigned for.

"We call on Saudi authorities to release all other human rights defenders unconditionally and immediately," said Samah Hadid, Middle East campaigns director at Amnesty International. "This wave of repression in Saudi Arabia must end. These arrests are completely unjustified."

The remaining detainees included 28-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul, who in 2014 was held in custody for more than 70 days for trying to enter Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) while driving a car.

The 'moderate' kingdom?

Last year, Riyadh announced it would end a ban against women driving, marking a major shift for Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world to have such a ban in place.

The measure forms part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's plans to reform the country. He pledged last year to make Saudi Arabia "moderate" and "open."

But the reforms, which include allowing women to open their own business without consent of a male relative, have been met with hostility by some people in Saudi Arabia.

Ultraconservative clerics have warned the government of going forward with such reforms, saying it would corrupt society.

Bin Salman has also been criticized by human rights groups for not doing enough to protect homegrown reformers, especially in the wake of last week's arrests.

He "sees no irony in taking credit for the symbolic change, while targeting the women responsible for pushing for it," said Amnesty International earlier this week.

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Saudi Arabia: More freedom for women?

ls/sms (Reuters, AFP)

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