Aisha al-Mana, Hessah al-Sheikh and Madeha al-Ajroush are longtime advocates of women’s rights.
Dubai, United Arab Emirate | May 24
Saudi authorities have released three prominent women’s rights activists, but continue to hold at least seven others in a sweep targeting prominent icons of the country’s women’s rights movement, activists and rights groups said Thursday.
The three women released — Aisha al-Mana, Hessah al-Sheikh and Madeha al-Ajroush— are longtime advocates of women’s rights and took part in the first protest in 1990 against the kingdom’s ban on women driving.
Amnesty International and people familiar with the case said the conditions of the women’s release remain unknown. Those familiar with the arrests spoke with The Associated for fear of repercussions.
Activists and rights groups say those still detained — four women and three men — have been interrogated without access to lawyers and have been allowed just one phone call to relatives since their arrest last week. One of the women, Loujain al-Hathloul, has been held entirely incommunicado since her arrest May 15.
The detentions are seen as a culmination of a steady crackdown on perceived critics of the government. In recent weeks, activists say dozens of women’s rights campaigners have also been banned from traveling abroad.
The arrests have cast a pall over recent social openings being pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including a historic decision to lift the world’s only ban on women driving next month.
The arrests have also attracted negative publicity amid the crown prince’s efforts to brand himself as a “reformer.”
“He wants to rule without so much as a whisper of criticism,” wrote the Washington Post’s editorial board this week. “The crown prince seeks to modernize the kingdom but seems not to recognize the essential role of freedom in a modern society.”