- Jordan Pix/Getty Images
- Saudi Arabia has detained several women’s rights activists in recent months, including award-winning campaigner Samar Badawi, which sparked a massive feud with Canada.
- Canada tweeted on Friday that it was “seriously concerned” with the arrests, which prompted swift diplomatic retaliation from Saudi Arabia.
- So far, Saudi Arabia has expelled Canada’s ambassador , froze new trade, suspended flights , recalled thousands of students , and barred its citizens from receiving medical care in Canada, and began dumping Canada’s assets.
- At least 15 activists have been arrested since May, many of whom campaigned to end the country’s driving ban and patriarchal male guardianship laws.
- Saudi Arabia lifted its driving ban in June as part of the Kingdom’s modernization efforts, though the recent arrests suggest the country still lags behind in human rights.
Saudi Arabia has arrested several women’s rights activists in recent months sparking a massive feud with Canada that continues to escalate.
Two more human rights activists were arrested early last week, including award-winning women’s rights campaigner Samar Badawi, who is best known for challenging the country’s restrictive male guardianship laws.
She had previously been detained for her advocacy and was banned from travel.
Badawi had been targeted by police in the past for her close ties to several prominent rights activists, including her former husband Waleed Abu al-Khair, a lawyer serving a 15-year prison sentence for defending human rights.
She is also the sister of Raif Badawi, a renowned Saudi blogger who gained international recognition after he was sentenced to public flogging and a 10-year prison sentence for his dissenting views.
- Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Badawi’s wife, Ensaf Haidar, and her three children fled to Canada amid mounting death threats and were granted asylum in 2017. They gained Canadian citizenship in July, and several prominent Canadian politicians pledged to use all diplomatic resources to help free Badawi from prison.
Canada’s foreign ministry tweeted on Friday that it was “”gravely concerned” about the new wave of arrests in the Kingdom targeting women’s rights activists, which sparked outrage from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia quickly retaliated with a series of intensifying diplomatic measures which continue to spiral.
At least 15 prominent women’s rights activists have been arrested since May 15, according to Human Rights Watch, and many of them remain in custody and face serious charges and long jail sentences.
Local media reported that nine of the activists were set to be tried at a criminal court that specifically deal with terrorism-related offenses.
Saudi state media was quick to brand the activists as “traitors,” and accused them of forming a “cell” in conjunction with foreign agents, Amnesty International said.
Semi-official #Saudi account is posting this kind imagery of arrested women’s rights activists. The red stamps over activists’ pictures read: “traitor”. State is shockingly brazen. Some of these activists gained immense popularity & credibility during anti-guardianship campaign. pic.twitter.com/ePxMugx7Km
— Nora Abdulkarim نورة الدعيجي (@Ana3rabeya) May 19, 2018
Many of the men and women detained in the crackdown were tied to previous campaigns to lift the country’s driving ban on women, which was finally lifted in June after decades of campaigning.
The government announced the lifting of the ban last year, to global applaud. Critics of the ban say it was symbolic of Saudi Arabia’s strong patriarchal society, an image which Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is rapidly trying to change with numerous modernization efforts.
But while the nation was celebrating the ban’s abolishment, the government was doubling down on activists who had fought for the right.
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) May 21, 2018
Activists told the Wall Street Journal in May that on the day of the announcement they received calls from the Saudi government banning them from speaking to the media or even praising the move.
“We were told: ‘Don’t talk. We don’t want you to comment positively or negatively. Don’t do it, don’t give interviews,”‘ an unnamed activist told the Journal.
Activists said the recent crackdown is aimed at preventing anyone from claiming credit for the government’s decision to lift the ban.
“They put pressure on the government and the government is still angry, even if it has accepted that women will be allowed to drive,” another activist told the Journal. “Women will drive soon, and they don’t want anyone who can comment.”
Saudi’s Press Agency said the activists were arrested for having “dared to violate the country’s religious and national pillars through making suspected contacts in support of the activities of foreign circles.” The statement also said those detained sought to “destabilize the Kingdom.”