SAPRAC says the arrests of women activists are due to coordinated hostile activities against the state
Saudi authorities’ crackdown on women’s rights advocates is unrelated to their views on female drivers, according to independent, non-governmental organisation Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC).
The detention of a number of activists comes a month before the kingdom’s lifting of its decades-old ban on female drivers.
“For the sake of clarification, we would like to express that the [arrest] of these individuals has nothing to do with any view, opinion or statement that they have voiced on the issue of Saudi women's right to drive...” the committee said in a statement.
The women arrested, who have long campaigned for the right to drive, have also called for the end of the conservative Muslim state’s male guardianship system.
However, SAPRAC says the arrests are due to coordinated hostile activities against the state.
“We would like to begin by stressing that Saudi authorities only move forward with such a decision after careful consideration of the persons involved. The activities of these people have been carefully monitored over an extended period of time, which yielded clear evidence of coordinated activities against the state…” the statement said.
“Many people in the Kingdom have openly expressed their views on this issue and were not subject to any arrest or legal action, as they did not violate any of the regulations that are clearly enforced in Saudi Arabia,” it added.
The reported charges against the detainees include covert communication with entities that are hostile to Saudi Arabia and the recruitment of individuals from these entities to highly sensitive government positions in Saudi Arabia, resulting in the leak of classified documents.
Charges also include financial support to these individuals to undermine the security and stability of the country, according to SAPRAC.
The committee said the charges constitute a clear violation of Article 39 of Saudi Arabia’s Basic Law of Governance, which states that “the means of expression shall be complied with in accordance with Saudi regulations, which prohibit any harm to the security of the state”.
It added that the detainees are afforded all rights guaranteed by the regulations including the right to hire lawyers or representatives to defend them, the right to inform their relatives of their arrest and the reason(s) behind it as well as the right to not be subjected to any physical or mental harm.
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.
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 UAE 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.