Saudi Arabia driving ban agitation: Meet the arrested women's rights activists 

Published: 26th May 2018 12:07 PM  |   Last Updated: 26th May 2018 12:40 PM  

Saudi Arabia's arrest of 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. The group includes women ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s who have pushed to lift the ban on women driving and for equal rights, as well as men who have supported them. Here's a look at who the detained activists are and how they became icons of the women's rights movement in Saudi Arabia.
LOUJAIN AL-HATHLOUL: The activist in her late 20s is among the most outspoken women's rights activists in the kingdom. She was detained for more than 70 days after she attempted to livestream herself driving from neighboring UAE to Saudi in 2014. She was detained by authorities as she attempted to cross the border and referred to an anti-terrorism court on charges of criticizing the government online. She was later released without trial. Activists say al-Hathloul was arrested again in June of last year in connection with her advocacy. Al-Hathloul attended a humanitarian summit in Canada in 2016, where she was photographed in Vanity Fair magazine with former American actress Meghan Markle, who wed Prince Harry over the weekend. (Photo: Twitter/Marion-Peter)
AZIZA AL-YOUSEF: A retired professor at King Saud University, she is among the most prominent women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia. In 2016, she delivered a petition signed by thousands to the royal court calling for an end to guardianship laws that give male relatives final say over a woman's ability to marry or travel abroad. She has worked for years assisting women fleeing abusive marriages and homes. She also defied the kingdom's ban on women driving on several occasions. (Photo: AFP)
EMAN AL-NAFJAN: An assistant professor of linguistics, Al-Nafjan has protested the driving ban, including publicly driving in the capital, Riyadh, in 2013 as part of a campaign launched by women's rights activists. She has worked closely with al-Yousef and other women's rights activists to help domestic abuse victims and bring attention to repressive guardianship laws. She was among dozens of women who were warned by the royal court last year to stop speaking with the press or voicing opinions online. (Photo: Twitter/Admirable-Women)
MADEHA AL-AJROUSH: A psychotherapist in her mid-60s, al-Ajroush runs a private therapy practice in the capital, Riyadh, which specializes in gender orientation. A longtime advocate of women's rights, she took part in the kingdom's first driving protest in 1990 and subsequent campaigns to end the ban on women driving. She has faced years of harassment by authorities, including house raids, travel bans and being fired from her job. She helped initiate a nationwide program in Saudi Arabia to provide support for domestic abuse victims and train police and courts on how to receive and treat such victims. (Photo: Twitter/Layan)
AISHA AL-MANA: Like al-Ajroush, the 70-year-old al-Mana took part in the kingdom's first driving protest in 1990, in which 47 women were arrested. She also took part in driving protests in 2011 and 2013. In 1980, she became one of the first Saudi women to obtain a PhD, also in the U.S. from the University of Colorado. In 2016, she established a scholarship program for Saudi women to study global health at her alma mater. She also established a $2 million endowment to support Saudi and Arab women at the American University of Beirut who are studying advanced degrees in nursing and health sciences. (Photo: Twitter/Mai-El-Sadany)
WALAA AL-SHUBBAR: Activists say al-Shubbar, in her late 20s, works as a nurse in the capital, Riyadh. She has been active in calling for an end to guardianship rules and appeared on Arabic news programs to discuss issues of patriarchy in the kingdom. In an interview previously aired on France24, al-Shubbar is quoted as saying that in Saudi society 'men are viewed as superior to women, and men are seen as capable of achieving anything and a woman is not.' (Photo: Twitter/Mai-El-Sadany)
BRAHIM AL-MUDAIMIGH: Al-Mudaimigh is a lawyer who defended al-Hathloul during her detention in 2015 for attempting to cross the UAE-Saudi border while driving. He has supported human rights defenders in court and offered legal representation to activists in the kingdom. He's also represented Waleed Abulkhair, a human rights lawyer now serving a 15-year sentence who'd represented Raif Badawi, a blogger who was publicly flogged in 2015 and is serving 10 years in prison. Activists say al-Mudaimigh, who ran his own practice, was one of the few lawyers in Saudi Arabia willing to defend human rights activists since others have either fled or been detained. (Photo: Twitter/Mai-El-Sadany)
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