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Saudi Arabia temporarily frees more women's rights activists

Riyadh under pressure to drop charges against at least four women, some of whom say they were tortured in detention
Saudi women's rights activists were arrested last year amid crackdown on dissent (AFP/File photo)

The Saudi authorities have temporarily released a handful of detained women's rights activists, AFP and Reuters news agencies reported, as the Gulf kingdom faces mounting pressure to drop all charges against the women.

"Hatoon al-Fassi, Amal al-Harbi, Maysaa al-Manea, and Abeer Namankani were temporarily released," said ALQST, a UK-based Saudi human rights monitoring group, in a tweet on Thursday.

The group added that it had unconfirmed reports that a fifth activist was also released.

The Saudi government did not immediately respond to requests for comment from AFP or Reuters.

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This would be the second group of Saudi women activists to be temporarily released pending trial, as three others - Rokaya al-Muhareb, Aziza al-Yousef and Eman al-Nafjan - were freed in March.

At the time, the Saudi court said it ordered their release "after it studied their requests submitted during the trial sessions", the state-run SPA news agency reported.

It said the court would continue to look into their cases and that the women's release was conditional on their future attendance at their trials until a final decision is reached.

The women were detained last year as part of a wider wave of arrests in the Gulf kingdom, as Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a crackdown on dissent.

Riyadh has accused about a dozen women's rights advocates, several of whom had campaigned for women's right to drive in the country, of harming Saudi Arabia's national interests and being "agents of embassies".

However, human rights groups say the arrests are baseless and have urged Saudi Arabia to immediately release the women and drop all criminal charges.

Rights groups also have accused the Saudi authorities of holding the activists in solitary confinement and subjecting them to mistreatment and torture, including electric shocks, flogging and sexual assault.

Saudi officials have denied those allegations.