Saudi authorities have widened a crackdown on women's rights advocates, detaining at least three more activists a month before the kingdom lifts its decades-old ban on women drivers, campaigners said Tuesday.
Saudi authorities on Saturday announced the arrest of seven people, mostly identified by rights groups as women who have long campaigned for the right to drive and to end the conservative Muslim state's male guardianship system.
Amnesty International told AFP the number of detainees has risen to 10, including at least seven women, while the Gulf Centre for Human Rights and another Saudi activist said the number stood at 12.
"Despite international outcry and calls for the release of these activists, they still remain detained for their peaceful human rights work," said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International's Middle East director of campaigns.
"Saudi Arabian authorities cannot continue to publicly state they are dedicated to reform while treating women's rights campaigners in this cruel way."
The detainees include three generations of activists such as 28-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul - who was also held in 2014 for more than 70 days for attempting to drive from neighbouring United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia - and Aziza al-Yousef, a retired professor at Riyadh's King Saud University.
Also arrested, campaigners say, was Madeha al-Ajroush, a psychotherapist in her 60s, well known for being part of a group that mounted the first Saudi protest movement in 1990 for the right to drive.
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights voiced concern that Hathloul, one of the most outspoken activists, was being held incommunicado, while other campaigners said the detainees were without any access to lawyers and their whereabouts were unknown.
Saudi government officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Without naming those detained, authorities have accused them of "suspicious contact with foreign parties", providing financial support to enemies and attempting to undermine the kingdom's "security and stability".
State-backed media branded them traitors and "agents of embassies".For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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