Saudi Arabia has arrested seven women’s rights campaigners, accusing them of working with “foreign entities” as the kingdom prepares to lift its controversial ban on female drivers.
Those arrested by state security had worked in some capacity on women’s rights issues, with supporters saying five of them are among the most prominent and outspoken campaigners in the country.
As Breitbart Jerusalem reported, Saudi women will be allowed to start driving in the kingdom from June 24 following a royal decree issued last year that confirmed the end of a decades-long ban on women driving — the only one of its kind in the world.
Now the pro-government media outlets have splashed photos of those who supported lifting the ban online and in newspapers, accusing them of betrayal and of being traitors, AP reports.
Their movement was seen as part of a larger democratic and civil rights push in the kingdom, which remains an absolute monarchy where protests are illegal and where all major decision-making rests with the king and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Some Saudi men have taken to social media to vent their dissatisfaction with the change in the law, using an Arabic hashtag that translates as: “You won’t drive.”
However, the hashtag went viral when Saudi women began hitting back.
“You wont drive” has been used on Twitter over 65,000 times since Monday with a variety of takes on the subject:
— A|أستغفر الله (@its_iiiiii) May 14, 2018
— Maha S. Alm (@mrsmahaa) May 14, 2018
Those detained in the latest crackdown include Loujain al-Hathloul and Eman al-Nafjan, who have all publicly opposed the driving ban.
According to Human Rights Watch, both Ms Nafjan and Ms Hathloul signed a petition in 2016 to abolish the male guardianship system, which prevents women from travelling abroad, marrying or obtaining a passport without the permission of a male guardian.
Ms Hathloul has been detained twice already, once in 2014 when she attempted to drive across the border from the United Arab Emirates. She served 73 days at a juvenile detention centre as a result, and documented many of her experiences on Twitter.
Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system currently requires women to obtain permission from their fathers, brothers, husbands or even sons for a host of decisions.
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