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Saudis Arrest Women's Rights Activists Weeks Before End Of Ban On Women Driving

Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (file photo)

Saudi Arabia has arrested at least three more women's rights activists in a widening crackdown just weeks before a ban on women driving is set to end, international rights watchdogs said on May 22.

Amnesty International and other rights groups last week reported the detention of at least seven activists, mostly women who previously campaigned for the right to drive and an end to the kingdom's male guardianship system, which requires women to obtain the consent of a male relative for major decisions.

State media labeled those detained as traitors and "agents of embassies," unnerving diplomats in Saudi Arabia, a top U.S. ally in the Persian Gulf region.

Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has courted Western allies to support his reforms. Hundreds of billions of dollars of investments were discussed during his recent trips to the United States and Europe.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the department supports the Saudi reform agenda but is concerned about the arrests.

"We support space for civil society and also free speech. But overall, we're concerned about it and we're keeping a close eye on it," she told reporters in Washington.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP