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US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday called on Saudi Arabia to release women’s rights activists who have been detained since last year. “We call on Saudi Arabia to immediately release these peaceful critics,” Pompeo told a meeting in Singapore of the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity (WGDP) Summit, which is being attended by hundreds of women leaders from more than 100 countries. The US officials said that more than 20 WGDP members, including human rights defenders and women’s rights activists, had been detained in the kingdom since last year, including Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef and Eman al-Nafjan. The US officials said Washington was committed to supporting the efforts of WGDP members to achieve equality, prosperity and opportunity for women around the world. Hathloul, al-Yousef and Nafjan were detained in mid-March for “suspicious contacts with foreign parties”. Hathloul is a 35-year-old Saudi woman who last year launched a campaign calling for the right of women to drive. READ MORE: Saudi Arabia women activists arrested The three activists were last seen in June 2018, shortly after the authorities announced they had been released. Hathloul, al-Yousef and Nafjan are the latest in a series of women’s rights activists who have been arrested and held for campaigning for the right of women to drive. Their arrests came after the October 2017 killing of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the kingdom. Human rights organisations have called for their immediate release. Last year, Human Rights Watch described the three detainees as “Saudi Arabia’s political prisoners” and said their arrests were part of the kingdom’s broader crackdown on activists. In October 2017, dozens of civil society and women’s rights activists were detained, including rights campaigners for the “right to drive”, along with clerics who had called for an end to the male guardianship system that restricts the ability of women to travel and obtain a passport. Around 50,000 people signed a petition supporting women’s rights activists, expressing their solidarity with them and declaring that “the prisoners of women’s rights are part of our family”.

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