Saudi detains nine academics, writers in new crackdown


Saudi’s Crown Prince might be putting up a liberal front to Saudi with moves like allowing women to drive and letting them watch football matches alongside men. But, in a sweeping crackdown that began on November 16, nine academics, writers, and activists were detained, said, campaigners. This is the latest in a series of crackdowns on intellectuals over the past two years.

The detention underscores what observers call increasing repression and authoritarianism under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s de facto rule as he consolidates his grip on power.

Homes of nine journalists, bloggers, and activists across cities including Riyadh, Jeddah, and Hail were raided; laptops and mobiles were seized, rights group ALQST said. Charges against them were unclear and there was no immediate comment by Saudi authorities. Writer Suleiman al-Nasser was among those detained on “the grounds of his intellectual opinions”, as was blogger Fuad al-Farhan for his “intellectual activities”.

Arbitrary crackdowns are amplifying public fears as aggressive hyper-nationalism takes root that promotes veneration of the kingdom’s rulers.

“Saudi authorities have carried out a new wave of arrests of journalists and activists, women and men, over the past few days, in a continuation of their previous crackdowns on civil society,” ALQST said in a statement on Monday.

“At the same time, the authorities have stepped up their harassment of existing prisoners of conscience by means of continued torture, sexual harassment and other kinds of abuse.” Prisoners of Conscience, a Saudi group that tracks political prisoners, but the number of people detained at 10.

Prince Mohammed’s widening crackdown since 2017 has led to the arrest of more activists, businessmen, and clerics.

The Crown Prince, the Kingdom, and its human rights record had come under the scanner last year after journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. The Kingdom that has taken over the G-20 presidency prepares to host the summit next year.

Saudi’s attitudes towards women’s activists and alleged torture by authorities in the form of sexual harassment have come under the scanner too. Saudi prosecutors deny the accusations.

Western governments have asked Riyadh to release the women.