During the Arab uprisings (2011), the fate of Saudi Arabia & Mohammed bin Salman seemed into the blues. However, the regime endured repression against critics, including women activists, human rights defenders and fellow royals. Many of them are now Prisoners of Conscience.
The revolutionaries have terrorized Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy, which has been the only law of the oil-rich Kingdom. Basic Law in the region was introduced in 1992, during the reign of Saudi King Fahd. His nephew and the current heir to throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has emerged as a modernizer, who is pushing the country away from Wahhabism, towards civil law.
Precisely, Mohammed bin Salman is seeking to furbish Saudi Arabia’s extremist image in the West. Reforms like permitting the women to drive and reopening of movie theaters have wooed the younger Saudis, who are long-deprived of basic freedoms they usually see on the internet.
Outwardly, it may all appear fancy, but there is more than what meets the eyes. Mohammed bin Salman, alone, has taken all the credits for reforming Saudi Arabia, overshadowing the struggles and efforts of the human rights activists. They are the real heroes who have endured the loss of jobs, detainment and torture just to ensure basic freedoms in their country.
Moreover, there is a thin line between having a due legal setup and having a feign of one. In a nutshell, the monarchy establishes laws, and later misuses them to meet personal ends.
There has never been an uncensored platform for people in Saudi Arabia to express their opinions. Nongovernmental entities are allowed to exist on papers but not in practice. Even mass gatherings, where religion or politics are discussed, require a license.
Social media has become a new frontier for millions of suppressed voices. And to the Saudi government, that’s a massive threat. In the past year, Saudi Arabia has seen a massive crackdown on dissent, with making more than 2,500 anti-regime activists, religious leaders, reporters, scholars and women’s rights defenders prisoners of conscience.
Saudi authorities arrested at least 13 women under the pretext of upholding national security. While some have been freed, others remain jailed unjustly. They are: Sraa al Ghomgham, Loujain al-Hathloul, Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Nafjan, Nouf Abdelaziz, Mayaa al-Zahrani, Hatoon al-Fassi, Samar Badawi, Nassema al-Sadah, and Amal al-Harbi.
Among those arrested were well-known Islamic preachers Farhan al-Malki, Mostafa Hassan, Awad al-Qarni and Safar al-Hawali.
The case of Safar Al-Hawali demonstrates how the kingdom is giving a hard time to dissidents of all stripes. Scholar Al-Hawali was imprisoned shortly after he published a 3,000-page book ‘Muslims and the Western Civilization’ criticizing Mohammed bin Salman and the ruling family over their ties to Israel, calling it a “betrayal”. The book also accused Saudi Arabia of wasting funds on fake projects.
International organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have slammed Saudi Arabia for detaining human rights activists for infinite time, without any trials. They have also demanded the authorities to disclose the whereabouts of prisoners of conscience and permit them to communicate with their families and lawyers.
If the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is genuinely serious about modernizing Saudi Arabia, he must step in to ensure no activist is illicitly detained for carrying out human rights work.