Essam Zamil, a Saudi economist, businessman, and self-described “serial entrepreneur” has been charged with treason by Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor. The charges against him include joining the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, communicating with Qatar with whom Saudi Arabia cut off all ties, and inciting protests and unrest in the kingdom.
Before his arrest, Zamil openly criticized Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s ambitious plan to privatize the kingdom’s oil company Aramco, which is crucial to the economy of the country. The sale of five percent of Aramco was the flagship ambition of the ‘Vision 2030’ plan pushed by Mohammad bin Salman. His aim was to reduce economic dependency on oil and create a competitive economy to replace it, starting by selling a percentage of Aramco to private businesses. King Salman later canceled the sale of Aramco.
Zamil said that the US$2 trillion valuations for Aramco suggested by bin Salman would require the authorities to include the company’s oil reserves in the sale.
“The current valuation implies that everything will be sold, including the oil under the ground,” he wrote on Twitter and later deleted.
“It is neither fair nor logical to sell the oil from under our feet in a commercial transaction at this juncture. If all the oil is sold, and we take its price in cash, and then we still fail to diversify, then we’ll have nothing left, no diversified economy and no oil either.”
Zamel’s supporters are appalled at the accusations against him. Friends and family have grown increasingly worried about him amid reports that he’s been held in harsh conditions under solitary confinement
In the recent past, Saudi Arabia has arrested dozens of scholars, women rights activists and critical voices against the government.
In early September prosecutors of the country sought the death penalty of a prominent Saudi scholar Salman Odah. Israa al-Ghomgham, from the Eastern Province, was sentenced to the death penalty along with four other human rights activists last month. She is possibly the first female human rights defender facing said punishment.
According to a tally by the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, there are currently at least 58 people on death row in Saudi Arabia. The number of persons facing the death penalty has doubled in the country since Mohammed bin Salman was appointed crown prince in 2017, according to the anti-death penalty group Reprieve.