Sun, Apr 07, 2019 - Page 5 News List

Nine held in renewed Saudi crackdown

‘HELL-BENT ON SILENCING’:Three women granted temporary release were made to pledge not to speak with the media amid allegations of abuse while in detention

AFP, DUBAI, United Arab Emirates

Saudi Arabia has arrested at least nine writers and academics, including two US citizens, in an apparent crackdown on supporters of detained women activists whose trial has drawn global censure, campaigners said on Friday.

News of the arrests came the morning after US lawmakers voted to end military support for a Saudi Arabian-led war in Yemen.

It also marks the first major crackdown since the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in October last year.

Campaigners identified the US-Saudi Arabian dual nationals as writer and doctor Bader al-Ibrahim and Salah al-Haidar, the son of Aziza al-Yousef — a high-profile activist who was temporarily released last week, but remains on trial along with other women campaigners.

The roundup started on Thursday, a day after the 11 women — some of whom accused interrogators of torture and sexual abuse — returned to court to face charges that include contact with foreign media, diplomats and human rights groups.

London-based rights group ALQST identified eight arrested writers, bloggers and academics — including a pregnant woman — adding that the crackdown was linked to their support of female activists on trial.

Another public academic, university lecturer Anas al-Mazrou, was detained last month after he expressed solidarity with the detained women during a panel discussion at the Riyadh book fair, it added.

Prisoners of Conscience, a Saudi Arabian group that tracks political prisoners, put the number of people arrested at 10.

A US Department of State official confirmed that two US citizens were arrested, but refused to give more details due to “privacy considerations.”

Many of those arrested face travel bans, campaigners said.

“Saudi authorities seem to be hell-bent on silencing anyone who dares to speak up or even voice their opinions privately and publicly,” Amnesty International Middle East campaigns director Samah Hadid said. “This goes beyond just attacking activists and now seems to target different segments of society. This is a dangerous pattern.”

“What is disturbing about new Saudi arrests is that waves of arrests keep moving from most-known to successively lesser knowns,” activist Nora Abdulkarim said on Twitter. “Another confusing aspect is timing, leaves one asking: ‘why now?’”

Riyadh has faced pressure from major Western powers to release the women on trial. Three of them — activist Aziza al-Yousef, blogger Eman al-Nafjan and preacher Rokaya al-Mohareb — were granted temporary release last week.

Before their release, the women and their bail guarantors were made to sign a pledge that they would stay away from the media, multiple people with access to the trial said.

The siblings of one of the prominent detainees, activist Loujain al-Hathloul, this week said they were being pressured by people close to the Saudi Arabian state to stay silent over her treatment in detention.

The next hearing, which foreign media and diplomats are barred from attending, is scheduled for April 17, activists said.

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