Two Americans among 8 arrested in Saudi Arabia amid crackdown on women’s rights activists

Saudi Arabia detained eight people, including two dual U.S.-Saudi citizens, amid an ongoing crackdown of individuals with links to women’s rights activists, reports say.

The arrested individuals, nearly all of whom were detained on Thursday, includes a pregnant woman and seven men, including American citizens Badr al-Ibrahim, a writer and physician, and Salah al-Haidar, whose mother is prominent women’s rights activist Aziza al-Yousef who was recently temporarily released from prison.

Al-Haidar has a family home in Vienna, Virginia, and lives with his wife and child in Saudi Arabia.

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The others arrested include Khadijah al-Harbi, a feminist writer who is pregnant; her husband Thumar al-Marzouqi, also a writer; Mohammed al-Sadiq and Abdullah al-Dehailan, both writers; and Fahad Abalkhail, an activist who supported the right of women to drive.

A person with knowledge of the apprehensions said Friday that the individuals arrested were not frontline activists, but instead writers and advocates who quietly supported greater social reforms in the kingdom.

They were all nearly taken from their homes in the capital, Riyadh. One of the detained was arrested in the eastern city of Dammam, a source told the Associated Press.

The arrests mark the first sweep of detentions targeting individuals perceived as critics of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman since the killing of Saudi activist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in October.

They come soon after the temporary release of three female activists - al-Yousef was among them – from prison last week. They were part of a group of 10 women’s rights activists put on trial last month for on trial for charges related to their activism, which included campaigning for the right to drive before the ban was lifted last year and calling for an end to guardianship laws that give men final say over a woman's right to marry or travel abroad.

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The women — some of whom have been held in solitary confinement for months — have told the court they were abused during interrogations, including being waterboarded, caned, electrocuted, sexually assaulted and threatened with rape and death.

The person with knowledge of Thursday’s arrests said the group is among 13 people placed under travel bans since February.

A third U.S.-Saudi national, Walid al-Fitaihi, remains imprisoned in Saudi Arabia since late 2017, when the crown prince detained more than 100 businessmen, princes, and officials in a purported anti-corruption sweep. Al-Fitaihi, whose family alleges that he's been tortured in prison, worked as a physician in the Boston area before he returned in 2006 to his native Saudi Arabia, where he helped found a hospital built by his family.

Women’s rights in Saudi Araba has been on the focus of international concern for many years. Saudi women still cannot travel, get married or open a bank account without a male guardian’s permission.

The World Economic Forum ranked Saudi Arabia number 141 out of 149 countries around the world for gender equality in 2019.

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Earlier this year, 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun fled alleged abuse by her family, barricading herself in a Bangkok airport. She gained international attention after tweeting about her ordeal.

She was granted refugee status by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and was later accepted by Canada.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.