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Saudi Arabia’s Crackdown on Critics Must be Stopped

The Saudi Government must be held to account for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi if the lives of other journalists in danger are to be saved.

The Saudi Government must be held to account for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi if the lives of other journalists in danger are to be saved.

Saudi Arabia is cracking down on critics yet again, having arrested eight writers, academics and entrepreneurs over the past week, in what appears to be an ongoing bid to silence criticism of the Saudi Government.

Officials have been raiding the homes of those detained, seizing their laptops and mobile phones so that they no longer have contact with the outside world. Amongst those who have been detained are bloggers, former journalists, writers, academics, small business owners and entrepreneurs.

ALQST, a London-based organisation that monitors human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, reported that the Saudi Government had heightened its harassment of existing prisoners by putting them through torture, sexual abuse and other forms of harrowing abuse.

Bader Al-Rashed, Suleiman Al-Nasser, Waad Al-Mohaya, Musaab Fouad, Abd al-Kareem and Abdul Majid al-Balawi, Abdulaziz Al Hais, Abdulrahman al-Shehri and Sulaiman al-Saikhan al-Nasser were amongst those who had been named as being arrested. 

From what we know of these individuals, Fouad al-Farhan was a blogger and technology entrepreneur who was previously detained for 173 days in 2008 after writing about political prisoners. He then maintained a low profile and refrained from commenting on political issues.

Abdulmajeed al-Buluwi and Bader al-Rashed had previously been reported as having written for Saudi newspapers.

Abdulaziz al-Heis is a US-educated researcher who previously worked for the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera television network. Saudi-Qatar relations have been strained over the years due to the diplomatic conflict over the war in Iran when Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of siding with Iran and cut off trade and ties with the country in 2017, while also placing a ban on Al Jazeera, which has its headquarters in Qatar. 

Many of those detained have written in the past for publications or expressed sentiments which the Saudi Government wishes to shut down. Even though many of them may not be actively voicing their opinions now, Saudi Arabia wants to leave no stone unturned in ensuring that such opinions do not resurface. 

“The person familiar with the arrests said it was not immediately clear why the individuals were detained or if they’d been charged,” according to the New York Times. But it also noted how the arrests seem to have targeted those “loosely connected with Saudi Arabia’s intellectual and reformist circles”.

For me, Saudi Arabia has no intention of reforming the country and will get rid of or silence anyone it feels is a threat to its reputation. Ironically, through taking this approach, the Saudi Government is damaging its own reputation without anyone else having to do anything. 

Following the murder of veteran journalist Jamal Khashoggi, one would think that Saudi Arabia would learn its lesson, having faced intense international condemnation. But, the fact that it is getting away with murder is one of the reasons why it continues its authoritarian stance.

Frustratingly, despite world leaders being aware of numerous human rights violations carried out by the Saudi Government, little has been done to hold it to account. Mohammed Bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, is a testament to the fact that it continues to evade accountability and has even been defended by the US President Donald Trump. This is despite the CIA concluding that the prince had ordered the murder of Khashoggi, who was killed last year by Saudi agents in Turkey to permanently silence his voice in the media. 

Khashoggi loved his country and had written openly about the reforms he wished to see implemented in Saudi Arabia. However, he was later reprimanded by the Saudi authorities and sought exile in the US, where he became a columnist writing for the Washington Post, thinking that he would be free to express his opinions there without any threat to his life. Sadly, his move to the US did not prevent Saudi Arabia from ordering his assassination and now the lives of other journalists and independent thinkers are at stake. 

It is important to note that just days after Khashoggi’s death, another journalist by the name of Turki Bin Abdul Aziz al Jassar was allegedly tortured to death for running a Twitter account that exposed human rights abuses in the country. Little was known of him and Saudi Arabia continued to express its ambition for reform.

Mohammed Bin Salman launched a media prize forum in July to make Saudi Arabia a media hub of the world and change perceptions of the kingdom. His aim is to “boost the kingdom’s reputation”, following international outrage over Khashoggi’s murder. Bin Salman’s attempt to promote his image as a reformist has been damaged even further with these new arrests. 

We cannot sit back and let those arrested by the regime be silenced in this way. International human rights organisations and world leaders must put pressure on  Mohammed Bin Salman to stop detaining and torturing individuals and more needs to be done to protect the rights of journalists, writers and independent thinkers.

There needs to be a platform to amplify the voices of those who are repressed to send a strong message of resilience against all forms of oppression. Allegations of human rights abuses against those arrested also need to be investigated by the International Criminal Court and the Saudi Government must be brought to account for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi – if the many lives that are now in danger of facing the same fate are to be saved.

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