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Saudi writer who opposed ban on women driving held

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi authorities have detained a columnist who supported ending his country’s ban on women driving, activists said Wednesday.

The activists, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said Tariq al-Mubarak was called by investigators in the capital Riyadh concerning a stolen car over the weekend. When he arrived at the Interior Ministry’s Criminal Investigation Department on Sunday, he was interrogated instead about his role in a campaign launched by reformers seeking the right of women to drive in the kingdom.

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When his friends were informed they could pick him up, they too were detained for several hours and questioned over the campaign’s activities, activists said.

Human Rights Watch and activists who know al-Mubarak say he remains in detention with no access to a lawyer. The New York-based organization called for al-Mubarak’s immediate release and on authorities ‘‘to stop harassing and trying to intimidate activists and women who defied the driving ban.’’

The spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Mansour al-Turki, could not be reached for comment.

In a column published in the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat the day of his arrest, al-Mubarak said extremists are intimidating people from exercising their rights. He said the courts in Saudi Arabia do not have sufficient provisions to deter those who threaten and terrorize others from exercising their freedoms because ‘‘rights and freedoms . . . are not instilled in our culture, nor our interpretation of religion.’’

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