Saudi Arabia releases veteran women's rights activist
Saudi Arabia released veteran feminist campaigner Aisha al-Manea Thursday morning, days after her arrest last week as part of a major government crackdown on activists, Amnesty International reported.
Manea, 70, began campaigning for the right of women to drive in the kingdom in the 1990s. She, along with six other activists to be detained by the Saudi government last week for "transgressing national and religious principle" and working with "foreign entities", just weeks before the driving ban is due to be lifted.
"Seven were arrested on charges of transgression against national and religious principles, suspicious communication with foreign entities, recruitment of persons working in governmental positions, providing financial support to hostile foreign elements to undermine the kingdom's security and its social and national fabric," the Saudi interior ministry stated at the time of the arrest.
Amnesty identified Manea as one of those detained, along with several other activists including Eman al-Nafjan, Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Ibrahim Modeimigh and Mohammed al-Rabea.
They say at least eleven activists have been detained following the sweep.
The rights watchdog hailed Manea's release, but urged more to be done to protect the rights of activists in the kingdom.
"We welcome her release but we still do not know the conditions around it, and we call on authorities to release the other human rights defenders immediately," said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International's Middle East director of campaigns on Thursday.
"Unfortunately, the chilling smear campaign of these women and men has caused damage and tarnished not only these women but any form of activism and dissent in the country."
Fears arose over the weekend after a pro-government news outlet warned that the activists detained could face the death penalty.
The Saudi daily Okaz on Sunday outlined the punishments that could be handed down to the detained activists, citing lawyers and legal experts.
"If the charge of recruiting people in sensitive government positions is proven the sentence ranges from 3 to 20 years in prison," the report said.
"If the investigations result in charges of treason and conspiring against the state… the punishment could be the death penalty."
The report added that the law does not "distinguish between man or woman in such cases".
Saudi Arabia has launched a widespread crackdown against liberal and conservative activists, along with powerful royals and business leaders deemed a threat to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.