06/11/2018, 19.15
SAUDI ARABIA
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Women activists arrested

More women activists have been arrested in the past few days.  Mayaa al-Zahrani was arrested for defending on social media Nouf Abdulaziz al-Jerawi who is already in detention. For advocacy group, the authorities “are keen to suppress all activists, and all sympathy with them”. Contacts with lawyers and families have been banned.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Saudi authorities have arrested two more women's rights activist in recent days, in a campaign of repression that runs counter to a stated policy of reforms that includes the right of women to drive.

ALQST, a UK-based rights group focusing on Saudi Arabia, said Mayaa al-Zahrani was detained on Saturday for a social media post in support of Nouf Abdulaziz al-Jerawi, a fellow activist arrested on Wednesday when security forces raided her home.

Al-Zahrani had also posted an article written by al-Jerawi, where the latter clarified her role as volunteering to help the oppressed by putting them in contact with lawyers and human rights groups.

"Why am I considered as an enemy of the state that threatens its security?" al-Jerawi wrote in a post that has been widely circulated.

ALQST described the detention of the two women as part of "the ongoing arrests of activists". For the rights group, "Saudi authorities are keen to suppress all activists, and all sympathy with them".

Prisoners of Conscience, a rights group that documents the arrests of Saudi nationals, also reported the arrest. "Saudi authorities want to silence and put behind bars voices that speak against their opinion," it said.  "It's clear that they fear the impact these voices may have on the community."

Last month, the government announced that a number of activists were being held for suspicious contacts with foreign entities, as well as offering financial support to "foreign enemies". State-linked media labelled those arrested as traitors and "agents of embassies".

None of the activists have yet been officially charged and remain incommunicado with no access to their families or lawyers.

"The Saudi government considers defending the rights of the oppressed as treachery,” says Yahya Assiri, head of ALQST. However, “dealing with pro-human rights organizations, with independent and transparent media, with embassies and foreign countries for the good of the country and its citizens is patriotism".

The ultraconservative kingdom, ruled by an absolute monarchy based on a fundamentalist view of Sunni Islam, introduced a series of reforms in recent months as part of the Vision 2030 plan promoted by 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

One of the goals is to promote women’s employment, raising it from the current 22 per cent to more than 30 per cent by 2030. However, the reforms are not just about the employment.

Last September, a ban on women drivers (set to go into effect this month) was lifted, and now women are allowed in stadiums for national day celebrations and football matches.

However, there are still major limitations and the practice of silencing those who demand more rights and freedoms in society continues.

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