RIYADH (Dispatches) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on major auto manufactures to press Saudi Arabia over the release of a number of prominent female activists, who campaigned for women’s right to drive before the ultraconservative kingdom lifted its decades-long ban on women driving.
The US-based advocacy group said on Tuesday that it had launched the #StandwithSaudiFeminists campaign after contacting Nissan, Jaguar, Land Rover, Hyundai, Ford, Volkswagen, Audi, General Motors and Renault to urge them to act on behalf of the jailed women.
"The companies should speak out for these women who are unjustly behind bars awaiting trial and whose years of activism have created a lucrative new market for the car companies,” Human Rights Watch Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson said.
Female activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Hatoon al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassema al-Sadah and Amal al-Harbi, campaigned against the ban on women to drive in Saudi Arabia for years.
The ban on women driving finally came to an end on June 24 in Saudi Arabia. But the lifting of the ban was accompanied by fresh arrests of several female campaigners.
At least nine people remain in detention, according to Human Rights Watch.
Saudi authorities have accused them of contacting "foreign entities", and local media have labeled them traitors.
Saudi Arabia is the last country in the world to permit women to obtain driving licenses.
Meanwhile, HRW expressed concern over Saudi Arabia's continued detention of a top cleric because of his political views, urging the Riyadh regime to "immediately" release him.
Saudi authorities detained top Sunni preacher Salman al-Awda on September 7 last year, and have held him in solitary confinement without trial ever since.
HRW said Wednesday that, according to family members, the 61-year-old cleric had finally been allowed to contact a lawyer for his first ever hearing on September 3.
At the hearing, prosecutors brought 37 charges against Awda, mostly connected to his alleged ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Qatari government, and his public support for imprisoned dissidents, according to HRW. They also requested the death penalty.
Saudi Arabia blacklisted the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization in March 2014.