RIYADH - Saudi Arabia detained two more women's rights advocates earlier this month and imposed a travel ban on several others in an ongoing crackdown in the conservative Muslim kingdom, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.
The arrests, just weeks before the much-hyped lifting of a decades-old ban on women driving, have revived criticism of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's approach to ambitious reforms as part of his push to diversify the world's top oil exporter's economy.
The powerful young heir apparent is trying to open up the kingdom by easing strict social rules, but reforms hailed as proof of a new progressive trend have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, souring that image.
Activists and diplomats have speculated that the new wave of arrests may be aimed at appeasing conservative elements opposed to reforms and that it may be a message to activists not to push demands out of sync with the government's own agenda.
HRW said the authorities had arrested writer and activist Nouf Abdelaziz on June 6 after she expressed solidarity with seven activists detained in May.