US citizens among those arrested in new Saudi Arabia crackdown

Saudi Arabia has arrested eight people this week in an attempt to silence supporters of women's rights advocates on trial in the kingdom. They are the first arrests since the killing of Jamal Khashoggi last October.

Saudi Arabia arrested eight people this week in a bid to silence supporters of detained women's rights activists, human rights groups announced on Friday. Two of those detained hold both US and Saudi passports.

The arrests come as 11 women stand trial after being arrested for campaigning for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom's system of mandatory male guardianship. The arrest and ongoing detention of the women has drawn Western condemnation.

Several of the women being held by authorities claim that they have been the victims of torture and sexual assault.

Now live
02:48 mins.
DW News | 20.02.2019

Saudi women fleeing abuse accuse embassy of threats

Zero tolerance for criticism

One of those arrested this week was Salah al-Haidar, a journalist whose mother Aziza al-Yousef is among the jailed women. Of the eight people that Saudi authorities allegedly arrested this week, seven were men. None of those arrested are frontline activists, but rather have voiced support for women's rights and other reforms.

Human Rights | 02.03.2019

Lynn Maalouf, research director of Amnesty International Middle East, a rights group, said the arrests were a message from authorities, "signaling to their entire people that there will be zero tolerance of any form of criticism, let alone questioning, of the state's authoritarian practices."

Five other people with ties to the jailed activists have also been under a travel ban since February. 

Relatives of Loujain al-Hathloul, who is currently on trial, say the government told them to stop speaking about the case, which they had previously done with US media outlets.

Walid al-Hathloul told CNN: "We stayed silent for eight months. We thought that being silent would solve the issue. We found out that at the end of the day this made the case even worse and that's why we are speaking out now."

This week's arrests, which London-based rights group ALQST says targeted writers and bloggers, came just after the trial of the 11 jailed activists resumed on Wednesday. The women face charges of speaking to foreign media outlets, diplomats and human rights groups.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

1955: First school for girls, 1970: First university for women

Girls have not always been able to go to school like these students in Riyadh. Enrollment at the first school for girls, Dar Al Hanan, began in 1955. The Riyadh College of Education, the first higher education institution for women, opened in 1970.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2001: ID cards for women

At the start of the 21st century, women could get personal ID cards for the first time. The cards are the only way for them to prove who they are, for example in disputes relating to inheritance or property issues. IDs were only issued with the permission of a woman's guardian, though, and to the guardian instead of directly to the woman. Only in 2006 were women able to get IDs without permission.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2005: End of forced marriages - on paper

Saudi Arabia banned forced marriage in 2005, but marriage contracts continue to be hammered out between the husband-to-be and the father of the bride, not the bride herself.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2009: The first female government minister

In 2009, King Abdullah appointed the first female minister to Saudi Arabia's government. Noura al-Fayez became the deputy education minister for women's affairs.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2012: First female Olympic athletes

Saudi Arabia agreed to allow female athletes to compete on the national team for the Olympics for the first time. One of them was Sarah Attar, who ran the women's 800 meter race at the 2012 Olympics in London wearing a headscarf. Before the Games, there was speculation that the Saudi Arabian team might be banned for gender discrimination if they didn't allow women to participate.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2013: Women are allowed to ride bicycles and motorbikes

Saudi leaders allowed women to ride bicycles and motorbikes for the first time in 2013 — but only in recreational areas, wearing full Islamic body covering and with a male relative present.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2013: First women in the Shura

In February 2013, King Abdullah swore in the first 30 women to the Shura, Saudi Arabia's consultative council. This allowed women to be appointed to these positions, soon they would be allowed to actually run for office...

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2015: Women can vote and get elected

In Saudi Arabia's 2015 municipal elections, women were able to vote and run for office for the first time. By contrast, New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote, in 1893. Germany did so in 1919. At the 2015 Saudi polls, 20 women were elected to municipal roles in the absolute monarchy.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2017: First female head of the Saudi stock exchange

In February 2017, the Saudi stock exchange names the first female chairperson in its history, Sarah Al Suhaimi.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2018: Women to be allowed in sports stadiums

On October 29, 2017, the country's General Sports Authority announced that women would be allowed into sports stadiums for the first time. Three previously male-only arenas will soon be open for women as well, starting in early 2018.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2018: Driving ban eliminated

On September 26, 2017, Saudi Arabia announced that women would soon be allowed to drive, causing a flurry of driving courses for women to prepare for June 2018, when they would no longer need permission from their male guardian to get a driver's license or need their guardian in the car when they drive.

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia: A timeline

2019: Saudi women to be notified by text message if they are divorced

The new law, designed to protect them from having their marriage ended without their knowledge, will allow women to check their marital status online or visit a court to get a copy of divorce papers. Human rights defenders say the law does nothing to address the fact that Saudi women can only obtain divorces in exceedingly limited cases — such as with her husband’s consent or if he has harmed her.

Foreign media, diplomats and rights groups barred

Although three of the women standing trial were temporarily released on bail, they were forced to agree to stay away from reporters.

Foreign journalists and diplomats are barred from attending the court hearings, the next of which is scheduled to take place on April 17.

Saudi Arabia has separately arrested dozens of activists, clerics and intellectuals over the past two years in a bid to quash all opposition. 

Friday's arrests are also the first to take place since the brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the government, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.

The Khashoggi murder sparked international outrage and CIA intelligence reports say the murder was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudi government has denied that Salman was personally involved but admitted that state employees were.

Now live
04:49 mins.
World | 09.10.2017

#IAmMyOwnGuardian: Protesting male guardianship in Saudi A...

js/msh (AFP, Reuters)

Every day, DW's editors send out a selection of the day's hard news and quality feature journalism. Sign up for the newsletter here.