A group of protesting Saudi Arabian women were arrested earlier this month, prompting a groundswell of outrage that may ultimately result in a sequel to the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
In what is seen as a new phenomenon in the kingdom, a ripple of outrage has begun following the arrests that came in response to demonstrations protesting the detention of male family members.
The incident, which took place in the town of Buraida, was reported by CNN, which quoted Saudi activists who said the kingdom has been trying to silence the women. Buraida is the provincial capital of Qassim Province, a conservative area of the country in which the detention of women is seen as a red line not to be crossed.
Mothers, daughters, sisters and wives had gathered to demand rights denied to their male relatives by the Board of Grievances.
A female Saudi journalist covering the story, Iman Al Qahtani, told CNN that she was stopped by Saudi secret police – the Mubahith – when she tried to gain access to those who had been arrested, and was warned to leave town.
The Amnesty International human rights organization documented the incident, calling in a statement for the release of the 18 women and 10 children who were arrested and detained. “There is no way the Saudi Arabian authorities can justify detaining people if they have simply peacefully exercised their rights to freedom of expression and assembly,” said Phillip Luther, Middle East and North Africa AI program director.
Thus far, just seven women have been released. But the incident may have finally brought a new ‘Arab Spring’ to the kingdom, having also inspired a groundswell of demonstrations in support for the women from protesters as far away as Riyadh, the capital, and even in Mecca, the religious center of the country.
Such protesters have included men, many of whom are related to thousands of inmates being held with no access to lawyers and without trials in connection with ‘counter terrorism’ sweeps throughout the kingdom. They are beginning to chant a new slogan around the country: “The people call for the liberation of the prisons.”