Saudi Arabia intensified its crackdown on political activism this week with a new round of arrests targeting people seen to be supportive of women’s rights.
Those detained include individuals with ties to a group of women activists who were arrested in May 2018 for protesting the country’s ban on women driving and its “guardianship laws.” Those women have faced brutal torture and sexual assault while in detention, to the point that they have been unable to walk or stand, according to reports by human rights groups.
The eight people detained this week include a feminist writer who is pregnant, and the son of women’s rights activist Aziza al-Yousef, one of the women arrested last May, who remains on trial but was temporarily released last week. Two of those arrested are dual U.S.-Saudi citizens.
Notably, most of them are not exceptionally vocal political activists. Instead, they are simply associated with women’s activists, both in Saudi Arabia and abroad. This suggests the government is expanding its campaign of harassment and intimidation to alienate the women already in detention and to scare their supporters into silence.
Further evidence of this came from the siblings of detained activist Loujain Al-Hathloul, who said this week that they were being pressured to stop speaking publicly about the torture their sister has faced while imprisoned. Though the siblings live outside the kingdom, their father resides in Saudi Arabia and was briefly held in custody recently after tweeting about his daughter’s incarceration.
The Saudi government’s crackdown on journalists and activists has drawn worldwide condemnation. In 2017, it rounded up over a hundred businessmen and officials in what it called an anti-corruption sweep. And in October 2018, journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, in a hit that is widely believed to have been ordered by the highest levels of the Saudi government.
These latest arrests point to a troubling new boldness on the part of the Saudi government, which, for a while, seemed to be intent on trying to improve its image. At this point, however, it appears to be moving in the other direction, harshly quashing not only dissent, but punishing people who it knows the dissenters care about.
Read more at USA Today.