Women push strollers past a closed Adams Kids store at the Al Yasmin mall in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Photographer: Tasneem Alsultan/Bloomberg)

Saudis Are Said to Free 3 Women Activists as Others Remain Held

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi authorities released three women’s rights activists who were detained last week in a crackdown that drew condemnation from international human rights groups, according to two people with knowledge of the matter and an Amnesty International official.

Madeha Alajroush, Hessah Alsheikh and Aisha Al-Mana have been freed, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East campaign director, confirmed the release on Twitter.

Other activists including Aziza Alyousef, Eman AlNafjan and Loujain Alhathloul, along with lawyer Ibrahim Al Modaimigh, remain in custody, the people said. The government’s Center for International Communication did not respond to a request for comment.

Saudi Arabia detained at least nine women and men in a move seen targeting government critics even as authorities take steps to ease social restrictions in the conservative kingdom. The government plans to end a longstanding ban on women driving next month, part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s push to open up Saudi Arabia’s economy and society.

Some of those taken into custody have been pushing for years for women to be allowed to drive, including Al Hathloul. She was arrested in 2014 for trying to drive across the border separating the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

Following last week’s arrests, the government said authorities had detained seven people who had “worked together in an organized manner to violate religious and national values” and who had “suspicious communication with foreign agencies.” The statement didn’t identify the people but it accused them of trying to “destabilize national security and social peace.”

Soon after, the detainees names and photos were splashed on the front page of Saudi newspapers, which branded them as traitors and foreign agents.

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