Two more women’s rights activists arrested in Saudi Arabia

Two more women’s rights activists are arrested in Saudi Arabia as men revolt over women now being allowed to drive in the ultra-conservative kingdom

  • Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah arrested in Saudi Arabia in past two days
  • Activists had both campaigned against kingdom’s male guardianship system
  • Comes amid fears Saudi men are revolting against women being allowed to drive
  • Last month, a clip showed car belonging to Salma Barakati engulfed in flames after being set alight by arsonists ‘opposed to women drivers’

Two more women’s rights activists have been arrested in Saudi Arabia – the latest to be swept up in a government crackdown on activists, clerics and journalists. 

Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah were detained in the past two days, adding to more than a dozen women activists who have been targeted since May, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Most campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system, which requires women to obtain the consent of a male relative for major decisions.

But amid international concern over the detentions, reports have emerged that men are revolting over women being allowed to drive in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Last month, footage emerged of a car belonging to Salma Barakati engulfed in flames having been deliberately set alight by men ‘opposed to women drivers’.

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Two more women’s rights activists have been arrested in Saudi Arabia. They include Samar Badawi, pictured here with former First Ladies Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, receiving an award at the State Department’s 2012 International Women of Courage Awards

Nassima al-Sadah (pictured), from the restive Shi’ite-majority Qatif province, has also been arrested. She is known to have campaigned to abolish the guardianship system

Last month, footage emerged of a car belonging to Salma Barakati engulfed in flames having been deliberately set alight by men ‘opposed to women drivers’ 

The arson attack came despite the Saudi government projecting a progressive image of the kingdom this year under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In June, officials ended a decades-old ban on women driving cars as part of a bid to diversify the economy away from oil and open up Saudis’ cloistered lifestyles.

But, the video of a woman’s car burning appears to demonstrate that not all are behind the kingdom’s new stance.


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Prince Mohammed has courted Western allies to support his economic reform plan, offering billions of dollars of arms sales and promising to fight radicalism in the kingdom. 

Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments were discussed during his trips to the United States and Europe. 

But the latest arrests appear to be at odds with this progressive image. 

Badawi received the United States’ International Women of Courage Award in 2012 for challenging the guardianship system, and was among the first women who signed a petition calling on the government to allow women to drive, vote and run in local elections.

The arson attack came despite the Saudi government projecting a progressive image of the kingdom this year under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman 

Sadah, from the restive Shi’ite-majority Qatif province, has also campaigned for the right to drive and to abolish the guardianship system.

‘The arrests of Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sadah signal that the Saudi authorities see any peaceful dissent, whether past or present, as a threat to their autocratic rule,’ said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement.

‘Saudi authorities have targeted and harassed Badawi for years. In addition to her advocacy for women’s equality, she has campaigned energetically for both her former husband and her brother to be released from prison,’ the statement added.

Badawi’s former husband is already in prison, serving a 15-year sentence for human rights activism, and her brother Raif Badawi, a prominent blogger, is serving a 10-year sentence for expressing controversial opinions online.

Saudi authorities have barred her from travelling abroad since 2014. 

In May, authorities arrested 10 women’s rights activists, including Eman al-Nafjan, Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Aisha al-Manea, Ibrahim Modeimigh and Mohammed al-Rabea.

Officials said seven people had been arrested for suspicious contacts with foreign entities and offering financial support to ‘enemies overseas’, and that further arrests could be carried out as the investigation proceeded. 

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