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Saudi Arabia begins new wave of arrests targeting human rights activists

Image of a prison cells [Melissa Robison/Flickr]
Prison cells [Melissa Robison/Flickr]

Saudi Arabia has arrested eight people, including a US citizen, in a new campaign of arrests targeting individuals who support women's rights and people linked to detained activists.

The Associated Press agency quoted a person it described as "well informed" of the arrests –  who spoke anonymously for fear of prosecution – as saying that the individuals were detained on Thursday.

These individuals are not seen as frontline activists, according to the agency, but they are writers and advocates who quietly support greater social reform, such as the right of women to drive.

The Associated Press revealed that among the detainees was Salah Al-Haydar, a Saudi citizen of US nationality, who has a family home in the US but lives with his wife and child in Saudi capital Riyadh. His mother is prominent women's rights activist Aziza Al-Yusuf, who is being tried and was recently released from prison.

The "Prisoners of Conscience" twitter account – which specialises in following news about detainees in Saudi prisons – confirmed the arrest of several other activists, including: journalist Yazid Al-Fayfi; Anas Al-Mazroui; Badr Al-Ibrahim, a US citizen; writer Mohammed Al-Sadiq; writer Thamer Al-Marzooqi; his wife, writer Khadija Al-Harbi; and Fahd Aba Al-Khail.

The account also confirmed that the writer Moqbel Al-Saggar is among the figures arbitrarily arrested, in addition to Abdullah Aldhailan. It confirmed that the new campaign of arrests, which mainly targets writers and a number of academic figures, is continuing.

READ: Leaked report finds abuse, torture of Saudi political prisoners

This campaign was preceded by a campaign of arrests by a decree issued by Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman (MBS) in September 2017. This campaign included a number of scholars and writers, most notably from within the Reform Movement in the Kingdom. Among the arrested figures was thinker and preacher Salman Al-Ouda, who was accused of several charges – which he denied – including "disturbing public order and incitement against the ruler".

The third session of the trial of Saudi human rights activists ended last Wednesday, but the Criminal Court in Riyadh did not issue new provisional release orders, after it temporarily released three detainees during the last session. Eman Al-Nafjan, Aziza Al-Yusuf and Ruqayyah Al-Mharib were released, provided that they attend the next sessions.

The women who have been arrested by Saudi forces

The women who have been arrested by Saudi forces

"Prisoners of Conscience" said that the Court has set Wednesday 17 April as a date for the fourth session of the trial of female activists. It has also informed the families of some activists that it is still examining the temporary release of their daughters in the next few days.

Detained activists are accused of having links with foreign intelligence agencies, while semi-official media described them as "agents" and "agents of the embassies".  However, the case files do not mention any contact with foreign spies, according to a number of human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch.

READ: Women activists and 5 men who have disappeared in the Saudi prison system

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