Saudi Arabia arrested prominent rights campaigner Mohammed Al-Bajadi, Amnesty International said today, as part of a crackdown mostly targeting advocates of women’s rights in the conservative Kingdom.
The government announced last week that seven people had been arrested for suspicious contacts with foreign entities and offering financial support to “enemies overseas”. They also confirmed that several other suspects were being sought without naming them.
Four activists have since been released but up to seven others still remain in detention. Most are said to be women who previously campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the Kingdom’s male guardianship system.
The arrest of Al-Bajadi comes a month before a ban on women driving is lifted. His detention along with others that have campaigned hard to end structural discrimination within the Kingdom is likely to be an embarrassment for Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman. The lifting of the ban was hailed as proof of a new progressive liberal trend under the de facto ruler of the country.
Some have speculated that the new wave of detentions may be aimed at appeasing conservative elements opposed to social reforms which include new cinemas, public concerts and an easing of gender segregation. Others have also suggested that these detentions are meant to send a signal to activists not to push demands out of sync with the government’s own agenda.
Al-Bajadi is a founding member of the banned Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, which has accused the security forces of abuses. He has been detained previously and spent several years in prison.
Reacting to the news of his arrest Amnesty’s Middle East Director of Campaigns, Samah Hadid, said: “This new arrest is another worrying development in the continued crackdown on human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia. We call on the authorities to release all human rights activists immediately.”