Saudi Arabia releases eight people arrested in campaign of activists

RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has temporarily released eight people accused of communicating with organizations opposed to the kingdom, but has detained nine others, the state news agency SPA reported on Saturday.

The prosecutor said he had questioned the people arrested last month, whom human rights groups identified as women's rights activists.

In a statement, the prosecutor said that the detainees had admitted to communicate and cooperate with people and organizations opposed to the kingdom, recruiting people to obtain secret information to harm the interests of the country and offering material and emotional support to hostile elements abroad .

The statement did not identify the detainees, and Reuters could not immediately verify their names.

A total of 17 people were arrested, eight of whom have been temporarily released, and are made up of five women and three men, according to the statement. Nine persons, five men and four women remain in detention "after sufficient evidence was available and confessions of the charges attributed to them".

International law enforcement agencies have reported the arrest of at least 11 activists in recent weeks, mainly women who previously campaigned for the right to drive and the end of the kingdom's male guardianship system, which requires that women obtain the consent of a male relative for important decisions.

The United Nations asked Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to provide information on detained activists and guarantee their legal rights.

On Sunday, the head of the religious police, officially known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, praised the prosecutor's statement and warned against groups and individuals "attacking the security and stability of the government".

The ban on driving women in the kingdom, which will be lifted on June 24, has been hailed as proof of a progressive trend. But recent arrests have altered that image.

The government announced two weeks ago that seven people had been arrested for suspicious contacts with foreign entities and offered financial support to "enemies abroad," and said other suspects were being sought. He did not name the detainees.

Last week, Saudi Arabia released four women's rights activists, fellow activists and Amnesty International said. The terms of the launch were not clear.

Activists and diplomats have speculated that the new wave of arrests may aim to appease the conservative elements opposed to the social reforms promoted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It can also be a message for activists who do not deviate from the demands of the government's agenda, they said.

The state-backed media had described the detainees as "agents of the embbadies," enervating diplomats in Saudi Arabia, a key ally of the United States.

Prince Mohammed has courted the Western Allies in an attempt to open the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom and diversify its oil-dependent economy, the largest in the region.

Sarah Dadouch Report, Stephen Kalin and Dale Hudson Edition


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