Saudi Arabia has arrested seven people for "actions against the state" and "suspicious communication with foreign entities."
According to the Saudi Gazette, authorities "detected coordinated activities by a group of people, who carried out an organized work to violate the religious and national principles of the state."
Writing for the Financial Times, Saudi journalist Ahmed Al Omran reported that the activists – women and men – were prominent campaigners against the kingdom's long-standing ban on women driving. The timing of the arrests comes just weeks before the ban is officially set to be lifted.
Among those detained is Loujain al-Hathloul, who was held in jail for more than 70 days back in 2014 after attempting to drive from the United Arab Emirates into Saudi Arabia. The activist's lawyer, Ibrahim al-Modimeegh, who formerly served as an adviser to the Saudi cabinet, was also arrested.
Activists suggested that the move was intended to prevent the campaigners from taking credit for Riyadh's decision to lift the driving ban.
In September, the Saudi government announced that the ban would officially come to an end. Since then, driving schools for women have opened in the kingdom and the Saudi traffic department has invited women holding licenses from foreign countries to register to obtain Saudi licenses, Arab News reported.
Saudi media reports suggest that the detained activists were in violation of Article 12 of the Basic System of Governance, which "stresses" that the kingdom's "security and stability, its social peace and national cohesion" should be "strengthened and protected from sedition and discord."
The individuals were reportedly in contact with "foreign bodies to support their activities." They also "sought to recruit persons working in sensitive government posts as well as providing financial support to hostile elements abroad."
However, Human Rights Watch has raised objections to the detention.
"It appears the only ‘crime’ these activists committed was wanting women to drive before Mohammed bin Salman did," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at the watchdog, told The Guardian.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been promoting a rapid modernization effort in Saudi Arabia through the ambitious Vision 2030 National Transformation Plan. His popular reforms – which include lifting of the driving ban for women – aim to create more opportunities for Saudis, diversify the economy, increase entertainment options and ease the kingdom's conservative laws.
The prince has been seen by many as a champion of women's rights.
Speaking about his reform efforts, Prince Mohammed has said he aims to lead his kingdom back to "moderate Islam."
"Saudi was not like this before '79. Saudi Arabia and the entire region went through a revival after '79. ... All we're doing is going back to what we were: a moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world and to all traditions and people," he said in October.