UN 'disturbed' by Saudi Arabia crackdown on women's rights activists
The United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) said it was "disturbed" by Riyadh's move, which could lead to "draconian sentences".
"Given the significant loosening of certain restrictions on women's activities in Saudi Arabia in recent months, including the forthcoming ending of the ban on women driving, it is perplexing why both women and men engaged in campaigning for such positive developments are now being targeted by the authorities," spokeswoman Liz Throssell said on Tuesday.
Saudi authorities earlier this month arrested a number of activists and accused them of "suspicious contact with foreign parties", providing financial support to hostile nations and attempting to undermine the kingdom's "security and stability".
Four of the detained activists have since been released, amid a torrent of global criticism that has cast a shadow on the kingdom's much-publicised liberalisation push launched by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Some of the human rights defenders had successfully campaigned for the lifting of the women's driving ban, which comes to an end on June 24.
The remaining detainees' whereabouts are unknown, the OHCHR statement added. Most of them have reportedly only been allowed to make a single telephone call to their families since they were arrested. One woman has allegedly been detained completely incommunicado.
"We are concerned that the lack of transparency surrounding their situation could open the door to abuse of their physical and psychological integrity," Throssell said.
The OHCHR also raised concern over the whereabouts of Nawaf Talal Rasheed, son of famous poet Nawaf Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Rashid, who was extradited from Kuwait on 12 May and has not been heard from since.