At least eight writers and activists, including two dual US citizens and a heavily pregnant woman, have been arrested in Saudi Arabia, despite recent pressure from western governments to release human rights advocates already in jail.
The latest round of arrests targeting critics of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s 33-year-old de facto ruler, is the first since Washington Post columnist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.
Those detained were vocal supporters of women’s rights in the country and had ties to activists already imprisoned. Most were taken from their homes in the capital Riyadh on Thursday.
Among them were two dual Saudi-US citizens: Badr al-Ibrahim, a writer and doctor, and Salah al-Haider, the son of prominent Saudi women’s rights activist Aziza al-Yousef, who is currently on trial herself but has been temporarily released from prison.
Saudi Arabia was already under pressure from the US Congress over its treatment of dual citizen Walid al-Fataihi, imprisoned since 2017, whose family alleges he has been tortured.
“They’re really sticking their finger in the eye of the Americans,” says Adam Coogle, Middle East Researcher at Human Rights watch. “It’s clear the Saudis feel they have [the Trump] administration in their back pocket and they’re not going to lose support.”
An activist who spoke under condition of anonymity for security reasons told The Telegraph there is particular concern over the health of feminist writer Khadija al-Harbi, who is in the late stages of pregnancy. Her husband was arrested along with her.
The arrests come just days after a group of women’s rights activists, detained since May, were in court.
They say they have faced abuse during their incarceration, including waterboarding, electric shocks, and threats of rape and murder. The Saudi government denies their claims.
News of the arrests came as a surprise, say rights groups. It had been expected that the women’s rights activists currently on trial would be temporarily released this week.
“This shows the total impunity that MBS is operating with,” says Coogle. “It certainly shows that this whole narrative of him learning from his youthful mistakes, we need to put that to bed at this point.”