Can't stop my tears: Saudi Arabia arrests woman for sympathising with feminist activists

Can't stop my tears: Saudi Arabia arrests woman for sympathising with feminist activists
Mayya al-Zahrani was arrested hours after posting comments on the arrest of a fellow female activist, a worrying show of Saudi online surveillance and the kingdom's continuing human rights crackdown
3 min read
10 June, 2018
Dozens of activists have been arrested ahead of the lifting of the driving ban [Getty]
Saudi authorities are persevering with their clampdown on rights activists, arresting yet another women's rights advocate on Saturday, according to human rights sources.

Activist Mayya al-Zahrani was reportedly arrested on Saturday, hours after posting comments online on the arrest of fellow activist Nouf Abdulaziz on Wednesday, the Saudi rights group "Prisoners of Conscience" confirmed in a Tweet on Saturday.

A second human rights organisation "ALQST" confirmed al-Zahrani's arrest on Twitter, reposting her previous comments in which she expresses sadness over the detention of Nouf Abdulaziz.

Over the past few weeks, Saudi authorities have arrested more than 17 human rights activists, of whom at least nine still remain behind bars.

Read more: Listen to Arab women: They know what they're doing

The detainees mostly consist of female activists who have campaigned for the right for women to drive and for the loosening of infantilising guardianship laws that dictate women need a male relative's permission to undertake important decisions such as travelling abroad, getting married or beginning educational programmes.

Not without irony, the driving ban on women is set to be lifted later this month, as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's programme of "liberalising" reforms that he vows will return the kingdom to moderate Islam.

"I can't stop my tears": Mayya al-Zahrani's heartfelt post about fellow activist Nouf Abdulaziz landed her in prison.

The arrests have therefore cast doubt over the legitimacy of bin Salman's intentions, reflecting the prevailing authoritarianism that rests behind his newfound "liberalising" image that he has worked hard to create.

A Saudi source told The New Arab: "There are a number of unidentified activists also detained under this fierce campaign with which the authorities are targeting in particular liberal and feminist activists in the run-up to the lifting of the ban on women drivers."

The source pointed to the presence of new security agencies involved in the arrests, including a cyber-security agency managed by the Crown Prince Information Advisor Saud Al-Qahtani.

The United Nations called on the Saudi authorities on Tuesday to provide information on the detained activists and to protect their legal rights.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said of the arrests: "The Saudi government seems so consumed with silencing dissent that even activists who have gone quiet for fear of retribution are being targeted again."

"The Saudi authorities should be concerned that the chill created by this new wave of repression will lead the country's allies to question how serious Saudi Arabia is about changing its approach to women's rights," she added.

On Thursday, the European Parliament called for the release of Nawaf al-Rasheed, a Saudi-Qatari poet who was arrested last month, as well as the activist Raif Badawi, who has been behind bars since 2014.

Since September of last year, the Saudi authorities have undertaken one of the largest arrest campaigns in its history, detaining hundreds of members of the so-called Islamic Awakening, or "Sahwa" movement of Salafism popular among the country's educated youth. Bin Salman has vowed to "destroy" the movement.