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Pompeo Asks Saudi Leaders to Free US Citizens Detained in Crackdown on Women’s Rights Activists

Posted Wednesday, April 10, 2019 - 11:12 am

(AFP) Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday he has pressed Saudi Arabia to release US citizens detained in a crackdown on women’s rights activists in the conservative kingdom.

Pompeo — who usually treads lightly on airing concerns with Saudi Arabia, which has close ties to President Donald Trump’s administration — said that he personally had spoken to Saudi officials “about every single American who we know to be wrongfully detained.”

“We’ve urged them to make a better decision, saying that those folks need to be released,” Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“It’s inconsistent with the relationship between our two countries. We don’t think it’s in the Saudis’ best interest to do this either,” he said.

Pompeo declined to name the US citizens detained by Saudi Arabia. But he was asked about Salah al-Haidar, the son of high-profile women’s activist Aziza al-Yousef, by Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, who said Haidar lived in his state of Virginia.

In addition to Haidar, campaigners say that the other detained US-Saudi dual national is writer and doctor Bader al-Ibrahim.

The latest round-up started last week after 11 women including Yousef returned to court to face charges that include contacting foreign media, diplomats and rights groups. Some of the women have alleged torture including sexual abuse in prison.

The women have campaigned for the right to drive — a decades-old ban that was lifted last year — and to abolish a guardianship system that gives men arbitrary authority over women.

Saudi Arabia has faced heated criticism from US lawmakers after the killing in October inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post contributor who had written critically about Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Trump administration has restricted visas to a number of Saudi officials as retaliation, but said it wants to preserve a warm relationship due to the kingdom’s purchases of US weapons and shared hostility to Iran.


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