Rights groups slam Saudi arrests as crackdown on dissent

 16 Sep 2017 - 15:19

Rights groups slam Saudi arrests as crackdown on dissent
The detentions come amid widespread speculation, denied by officials, that King Salman, 81, intends to abdicate in favour of his son, Crown Prince Mohammed

Reuters

The campaign group Human Rights Watch on Friday condemned the arrest by Saudi authorities of some 30 clerics, intellectuals and activists this week as a “coordinated crackdown on dissent”, and Amnesty International echoed the sentiment.

The arrests were made after exiled opposition figures called for demonstrations following Friday’s afternoon prayers, which did not appear to attract much support amid a heavy security deployment.

Activists this week circulated on social media lists of people detained. They included prominent Islamist preacher Salman al-Awdah, as well as some people with no clear links to Islamist activity or obvious history of opposition.

The detentions come amid widespread speculation, denied by officials, that King Salman, 81, intends to abdicate in favour of his son, Crown Prince Mohammed, who dominates economic, foreign and domestic policy.

“These apparently politically motivated arrests are another sign that Mohammed bin Salman has no real interest in improving his country’s record on free speech and the rule of law,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

The New York-based group said the arrests fitted a pattern of human rights violations against peaceful activists and dissidents, including harassment, intimidation, smear campaigns, travel bans, detention and prosecution.

Crown Prince Mohammed has rocketed to the pinnacle of power in the kingdom, pushing a reform agenda called Vision 2030 aimed at weaning the country off oil and introducing social reforms.  Critics say he is not doing enough to liberalise politics.

Amnesty International also denounced the crackdown, urging the authorities to reveal the whereabouts of the detainees and give them access to families and lawyers.

“In recent years we cannot recall a week in which so many prominent Saudi Arabian figures have been targeted in such a short space of time,” said Samah Hadid, the group’s director of campaigns in the Middle East.

“It is clear that the new leadership under Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is sending a chilling message: freedom of expression will not be tolerated, we are coming after you.”

A government spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.