DUBAI (Reuters) – The number of Saudis detained over the past week in a fresh wave of arrests has risen to 14, people close to them said, even as Riyadh faces intense international criticism over the murder of a journalist and the trial of prominent women activists.
The arrests, which started with eight late last week and include two dual U.S.-Saudi citizens, have targeted writers and academics who are not frontline activists but who have expressed support for women’s rights and other reforms.
The 11 women on trial had campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system. Three of them have been temporarily released, but the rest will return to court next week for another hearing.
It was unclear if the arrests are ongoing or information about some of them had just been slower to surface. Most of the detainees are men but two of them are women, including one who is pregnant, rights groups have said.
The Saudi government communications office did not respond to a request for comment.
The U.S. nationals are journalist Salah al-Haidar, whose mother Aziza al-Yousef is among those on trial, and Bader al-Ibrahim, a doctor and author of a book about Shi’ite Muslim politics. The State Department last week confirmed the arrest of two U.S. citizens.
Scores of other activists, intellectuals and clerics have been arrested separately in the past two years in an apparent effort to stamp out opposition to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has courted the West to support his efforts to transform the economy of the world’s top oil exporter.
The murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey in October sparked an international outcry.
Reporting By Dubai newsroom; Editing by Frances Kerry