Saudi Arabia asked to free 7 who fought for women’s right to drive

International rights groups have questioned Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Salman’s reform agenda after the regime named and shamed seven activists who were the original proponents of an idea incorporated in the prince’s vision for change.

The ‘crime’ they committed was campaigning for women’s right to drive long before Prince Salman announced it in late September last year. The authorities seem to think that only they have the right to push for change.

For that, the activists faced humiliation and arrest while Salman, who ordered that women be allowed to drive cars, won praise for his forwarding-looking policy.

Activists told Human Rights Watch that on the same day authorities announced that the driving ban would be lifted, the Royal Court had called up prominent activists and warned them not to speak to the media.

As the kingdom is going to lift the ban on women driving cars on June 24 this year, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch want the authorities to release the seven detainees who were the first to fight for this right.

Riyadh has accused the seven of attempting to “undermine the security and stability of the kingdom” and “erode national unity”. Other charges include making “suspicious contact with foreign parties,” providing financial support to “hostile elements abroad” and recruiting government workers.

While publically proclaiming support for women’s rights, Saudi authorities are targeting those who try to defend the rights of women in the kingdom through peaceful means, said Samah Hadid, Amnesty’s Middle East Director of Campaigns.

Her organisation is shocked by how local media is running a smear campaign to insult and humiliate these activists.

In a front page report headlined ‘Your betrayals have failed’, Al-Jazirah newspaper named two of those arrested as activists Loujain al-Hathloul (pictured) and Aziza al-Yousef.

‘No place for traitors among us,’ cried a headline of SaudiNews50.

The news portal’s post carried images of five of those detained: Hathloul, Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Mohammed al-Rabiya and lawyer Ibrahim al-Madmyegh.

Human Rights Watch sees Salman’s reform drive as “a frenzy of fear” for genuine Saudi reformers who fight for women’s empowerment.

The activists had also campaigned against Saudi guardianship laws that give male relatives a final say on whether a woman can travel abroad, obtain a passport or marry.

They say guardianship laws have to be abolished if the ‘reformist’ crown prince and his team are serious about the emancipation of Saudi women.