US Citizens Among 7 Arrested In Saudi Arabia

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman descends from his plane as he arrives at Algiers International Airport southeast of the capital Algiers

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman descends from his plane as he arrives at Algiers International Airport southeast of the capital Algiers

ALQST said all seven arrested were "writers and social media bloggers previously engaged in public discourse on reforms" and the crackdown was linked to their support of women activists on trial.

The women on trial were arrested last May and branded as traitors.

Their case has intensified Western criticism of Saudi Arabia's rights record, already in the spotlight after the murder of a journalist, Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in 2018. He was not known to be actively involved in human rights work and appears to have been detained shortly after he merely mentioned the names of some of the detained women's rights activists during a panel discussion about human rights at a book fair in Saudi Arabia. Some also have expressed support in the past for other political prisoners held by the Saudi government.

"Saudi authorities seem to be hellbent on silencing anyone who dares to speak up or even voice their opinions privately and publicly", Amnesty International's Middle East campaigns director Samah Hadid told AFP. "This is a risky pattern".

The Saudi government communications office and the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

"Another confusing aspect is timing, leaves one asking: 'why now?'" They were part of a group of 10 women's rights activists put on trial last month for on trial for charges related to their activism, which included campaigning for the right to drive before the ban was lifted past year and calling for an end to guardianship laws that give men final say over a woman's right to marry or travel overseas.

Before their provisional release, the three freed women and their bail guarantors were made to sign a pledge that they will stay away from the media, according to multiple people with access to the trial. Meanwhile, three women who were granted temporary release last week, among them al-Yousef and Eman al-Najfan, were told their next court date would take place after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which coincides with early June.

People close to the Saudi establishment have warned that public criticism by family members could prolong their detention.

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"I can shut up, but only when Loujain is with us and those who tortured her are put on trial".

"Pressure from all sides to remain silent", her sister Alia al-Hathloul, who is based overseas, tweeted without naming anyone.

His son told United States senators last month he had been tortured in detention, including electric shocks and whipping.

Responding to reports of the arrests, Amnesty International's Middle East Director of Research Lynn Maalouf said Saudi Arabia is setting a unsafe precedent.

The 11 women on trial had campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom's male guardianship system.

The brother of one of the women, Loujain al-Hathloul, who has publicised her case in the USA media, say men describing themselves as "close to the state" had asked his parents to stop them from speaking out.

"We are deeply concerned for the wellbeing of those detained since yesterday."
The group loosely had ties to one another, some as friends and others through intellectual circles, including with Saudi activists living overseas. Rights groups say two of them have been released, but the others' status is unclear.

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