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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Saudi Arabia arrests activists accused of ‘subversive behaviour’ 

The detentions came ahead of the kingdom's driving ban lift for women

A woman tests a car during a car show only for women in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 13 May 2018. Women are expected to be allowed to drive cars in Saudi Arabia starting in mid June 2018. EPA/STR
A woman tests a car during a car show only for women in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 13 May 2018. Women are expected to be allowed to drive cars in Saudi Arabia starting in mid June 2018. EPA/STR

Saudi authorities have arrested seven women's rights activists before the kingdom implements its driving ban lift for women next month.

A security source at the Saudi State Security Presidency announced that the authorities had "monitored an orchestrated activity of a group of persons who dared to violate the country's religious and national pillars through making suspected contacts in support of the activities of foreign circles," according to the official Saudi news agency.

The charges include "recruiting some persons in charge of sensitive government positions, providing the foreign circles with money with the aim to destabilize the Kingdom and breach its social structure and mar the national consistency". No further details were given by Saudi authorities.

Among those detained are at least three women, who have long campaigned against the driving ban, since May 15. They have been identified by rights groups as Loujain Al Hathloul, Aziza Al Yousef and Eman Al Nafjan.

That ban is to be lifted on June 24 after King Salman announced a royal decree last year. The women had campaigned for its lifting before the royal family decided to do so in September 2017.

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The requirements for the driving ban lift to begin have been established and five driving schools for women have been created, according to the country's General Department of Traffic.

"In order to obtain a private driver’s license, applicants must be at least 18 years old while those applying for a public driver’s license must be at least 20 years old", said Major General Mohammed Al Bassami.

"Applicants are required to pass a medical exam, theoretical and practical driving tests and complete the required hours of training in accredited driving schools".

Mr Al Bassami said women in the kingdom will be able to work as taxi drivers and in other traffic security-related facilities.

The decision to allow women to drive is in line with Bin Salman's Vision 2030 modernization project that seeks to diversify the kingdom's economy and provide entertainment to a population in which more than half are aged 25-years-old and younger.

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