Saudi Arabia arrests women's rights activists ahead of driving ban being lifted

Crown Prince and Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman in London England

Saudi Arabia's arrest of 10 women's rights advocates just weeks before the kingdom is set to lift the world's only ban on women driving is seen as the culmination of a steady crackdown on anyone perceived as a potential critic of the government.

'There is plenty of evidence to suggest that the absence of almost 30 days of Muhammad bin Sulman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, is due to an incident which is being hidden from the public, ' Kayhan claimed.

Government spokesmen were not immediately available for comment on the latest reports.

But "unless there is ironclad evidence against these women", Haykel warns, the arrests and trials "do not inspire confidence in the West that the country is headed in the right direction".

Calling bin Salman's meteoric rise to power into question, bin Farhan said, "If King Salman had been in a good state of health, things wouldn't have reached this stage".

Earlier on Monday, Amnesty International criticised the crown prince's pledges to implement reforms, describing them as "PR hype and spin", which exclude women's rights activism.

The arrests have cast a pall over recent social openings being pushed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, including a historic decision to lift the world's only ban on women driving next month.

The prince also warned that Europe and the USA would have to "foot the bill" of the collapse of the Saudi state, which he said is the direction the country is headed.

An exiled Saudi prince has called for a coup by his influential uncles to depose King Salman and prevent the current ruling structure led by his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, from doing more damage to the kingdom.

The Associated Press meanwhile cited people familiar with the arrests as saying the detained activists had not been given access to lawyers, and that they were allowed just one telephone call to their families a week ago.

The crackdown on Saudi Arabia's women activists may appear contradictory to the crown prince's sweeping reforms, but analysts say it fits in line with the enduring top-down vision.

The Saudi government has previously said that those arrested had suspicious contacts with foreign entities and had offered financial support to "enemies overseas". Aside from campaigning against the ban on women driving cars in the state, the group is well-known for protesting against other draconian laws and regulations, including the guardianship rules, which dictate that all Saudi women need to seek permission from a male relative before making any life-changing decisions, such as traveling overseas or getting married. On June 24, when Saudi women will be allowed to get behind the wheel for the first time, there will be countrywide celebrations and global adulation of MBS's reformist ways.

One of the detained, Loujain al Hathloul, told The Telegraph at the time, "Shutting up or submitting to these threats is unacceptable to me, it is not an option to stay quiet any more". They were mostly women, but also included three men.

"I am getting threats now, but I don't really care", the 39-year-old said, expressing concern for the detainees. She was taken to al-Hair prison, the group said, the same jail where she was held after she was seized in the United Arab Emirates.

A Saudi woman drives her auto in Jeddah. "It might be an overreaction to please the traditionalists, as we come to the date of women being allowed to drive". They have been publicly branded traitors by pro-government media.

Gerald Feierstein, a former USA ambassador to Yemen who also served in Saudi Arabia, says the arrests are "unsurprising".

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