After years of campaigning, the ban on driving for women in Saudi Arabia has been lifted. But in a cruel twist, the women who bravely fought for this right have been arrested and branded ‘traitors’. They face up to 20 years in prison in a desperate attempt to stop progress.
24 June was an historic moment for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
However, a few weeks earlier, many of the women who successfully campaigned for the right to drive were arrested, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Iman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef.
This victory for womens rights seems to have come at a cost – Saudi authorities have chosen to silence the very women bravely speaking up for human rights.
The high price of feminism in Saudi Arabia
Following the arrest of these women, Saudi media ran a chilling smear campaign, sharing pictures of the activists with the word ‘traitor’ stamped in red across their faces. A related hashtag describing them as ‘Agents of Embassies’ has also been widely circulating on social media.
These peaceful women human rights defenders may now face up to 20 years in jail for their work on dismantling the decades-old driving ban.
More recently, in July, the arrests of two more prominent women activists, Samar Badawi – sister of the jailed blogger Raif Badawi – and Nassima al-Sada, shows the crackdown on women activists is far from over.
Both have previously been targeted, harassed, and placed under travel bans for their human rights activism.
Saudi Crown Prince taking credit
These women were instrumental in lifting the ban – yet the Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman is now claiming credit for it as one of his ‘visionary reformist policies’.
Despite his attempts to brand himself as a ‘reformer’, the Crown Prince has shown his promises are meaningless.
In fact, the crackdown on human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia has only gotten worse since his appointment, with several activists detained, tried and sentenced to lengthy prison terms for their human rights work in the past months.
What you can do
There’s still time to act and make a difference – the women have not yet been charged.
You can write to the Saudi Arabian embassys, calling on the authorities to release the activists immediately.