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Three months after MBS became crown prince, dozens of clerics, academics, intellectuals, journalists, and human rights activists were arrested.
In a new report published Monday, Human Rights Watch points out that militants, clerics and all perceived critics of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) and the Saudi regime, faced a deep crackdown since the latter’s rise to power two years ago after the removal of his uncle Muhammad bin Nayef by King Salman.
The report goes on to say that the practices of arbitrary detentions of dissidents, intimidation of their family members, endless summonses for interrogation, and prosecutions in “blatantly unfair trials on spurious charges,” despite not being a new phenomenon within the kingdom, have “accelerated and increased” since 2017.
The new form of persecution of political activists started in September 2017 - three months after MBS became crown prince - when dozens of clerics, academics, intellectuals, journalists, and human rights activists were arrested in what was widely understood as an attempt to crush down dissent voices.
As the prince has been trying to make efforts to improve the reputation of the country with reforms allowing women to drive, to obtain passports and to travel with the permission of a male guardian when they over 21, the report says that these reforms are hiding a “darker reality” as the Saudi authorities multiplicated arrests of women’s rights activists with a representative number of these women sexually harassed and tortured.
"Important social reforms enacted under Prince Mohammed have been accompanied by deepening repression and abusive practices meant to silence dissidents and critics," the report reads.
According to HRW, the repressive measures applicated by the crown prince also include extorting financial assets in exchange for the release of the detainees. The method was used against dozens of business people and royal family members arbitrarily held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh in November 2017.
HRW cited reports that the Gulf state used surveillance technologies to hack into the online accounts of dissidents who criticize the regime, infecting their mobile phones with spyware.
The report also highlighted a lack of accountability for those responsible for journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder, a crime Prince Mohammed has sought to distance himself from. A United Nations report released in June said there was “credible evidence” MBS and other senior Saudi officials were responsible for Khashoggi’s death.