Authorities in Saudi Arabia have detained prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, Amnesty International first reported Monday. The 27-year-old Hathloul has openly criticized and challenged Saudi Arabia’s female driving ban, and was arrested and held for 73 days in 2014 after trying to drive from the United Arab Emirates into Saudi Arabia. The specific reasons for her most recent arrest are not clear.
Officials stopped Hathloul at King Fahd International Airport in the Saudi city of Dammam, and she is now reportedly headed to Riyadh, the capital, for questioning. Amnesty International says authorities have not granted Hathloul access to an attorney, or allowed her to contact her family. The human-rights organization says they believe Hathloul has been targeted for her activism.
Hathloul’s arrest comes a little more than two weeks after President Donald Trump made Saudi Arabia the first stop on his inaugural foreign trip. Though Trump criticized Saudi Arabia when he was a candidate (they “kill women and treat women horribly”), as president he cozied up to the Saudi regime, and quite notably did not mention the conservative government’s deep record of human rights abuses, including the persecution of women.
First Daughter Ivanka, who also traveled to Riyadh, did host a “female empowerment” roundtable with Saudi businesswomen and other professionals; however, activists — including Hathloul — criticized the outreach as hollow, and dismissed it as a missed opportunity to actually call out the unequal treatment of women. “It’s not about Ivanka speaking at the meeting,” Hathloul told the Washington Post at the time, “but is it actually useful for these women from Saudi Arabia to speak as well? Is their contribution in such events helpful to us Saudi women in general, not princesses or business owners or rich women? Does it actually help us? I doubt it.”