Saudi Arabia has detained nine writers, journalists and bloggers in its latest round of a protracted crackdown on dissent.
London-based Saudi rights group ALQST confirms reports that eight men and one woman were seized from their homes in mid-November. ALQST identifies a second woman whose arrest it cannot verify and says others not yet named have been rounded up and jailed.
None are high-profile activists and no reasons have been given for their detention. ALQST says suppression of “activists, writers and advocates of reform [has] been going on” since Mohammed bin Salman became crown prince in June 2017 and the country’s security agencies were reorganised.
Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch told the Washington Post that more then 200 Saudi citizens have been jailed in the past year. "It's just all part of the repression campaign against independent voices in Saudi society. If people weren't scared to talk before, they would be now."
This wave of arrests coincides with the kingdom's assumption of the presidency of the G20 forum, which will be held in Riyadh next November, and confirms the full international rehabilitation of Bin Salman after the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
The kingdom was also accused of war crimes in Yemen.
Coogle said the new round of arrests was, in part, due to the “failure of world leaders and others to hold Saudi [Arabia] accountable”.
A number of writers were also detained in April this year and, according to ALQST, “subjected to torture” without being brought to trial. Prominent women activists Loujain al-Hathloul and Nassima al-Sadah, arrested in mid-2018, have been harassed and subjected to long periods of solitary confinement.
While Bin Salman has been praised for initiating socio-cultural reforms, such as allowing women to drive and travel, cinemas to open, and concerts to take place, he has suppressed critical comment and opposition.
In November 2017, Bin Salman ordered the detention of as many as 500 Saudi businessmen, ex-officials and princes at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel in an anti-corruption campaign during which assets worth more than $100 billion were confiscated.
The anti-corruption drive made investors initially leery of involvement in the prince’s Vision 30 plan for reducing Saudi dependence on oil and diversifying the economy.
Their concerns have faded over time and interest has been expressed in Saudi Aramco’s public share offer, although September’s missile strikes on its facilities showed there could be further attacks while tension persists in the Gulf.