DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Saudi Arabia has detained at least eight intellectuals and former bloggers in a fresh wave of arrests targeting people with links to reformers, according to a rights group and a person familiar with the matter.
The London-based ALQST Saudi rights group and a person with knowledge of the arrests provided the names of those detained, which include individuals who championed and worked on government initiatives linked to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 campaign to overhaul the Saudi economy and society.
The person familiar with the arrests said it was not immediately clear why the individuals were detained or if they’d been charged. Some were journalists or former writers who stopped publishing years ago. Others are small business owners or entrepreneurs.
The arrests come as the kingdom prepares to launch a highly anticipated public offering of the state-owned oil company Aramco on the local Saudi exchange next month.
The arrests appear to target people who may have been loosely associated through Saudi Arabia’s intellectual and reformist circles, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
The arrests, which began last week, are part of a continuous two-year-long crackdown on activists and perceived critics of the crown prince, which drew global scrutiny after 15 Saudi government agents killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey last year.
The crown prince has faced widespread allegations that he was involved in the high-level operation, which involved people who reported directly to him. The kingdom maintains that the heir to the throne had no knowledge of the operation and is trying 11 suspects in secret.
Despite international fallout over the killing, numerous critics of the crown prince remain imprisoned and face trial for their acts of dissent. Among them are women’s rights activists, economists, relatives of human rights activists, Islamist clerics and critics of the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Saudi prosecutors have not commented on this latest sweep and the government’s media relations office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ALQST rights group said among those detained are Abdulmajeed al-Buluwi, a political analyst and writer, and Badr al-Rashed, a Saudi journalist and author. Both had worked on initiatives for Vision 2030, according to the person familiar with their arrest.
Also detained is Fuad al-Farhan, who’d been an early blogger in Saudi Arabia but had stopped blogging years ago and founded Rwaq, an Arabic online learning platform that featured a course on Vision 2030’s purpose and aims for Saudi business students. A business partner of his in Rwaq, Musab Fuad, was also detained in this latest sweep.
Others arrested include Waad al-Muhaya, a well-known Saudi intellectual who worked in various semi-official organizations; Abdulaziz al-Hais, a former journalist-turned small business owner; Sulaiman al-Saikhan al-Nasser, a banker and prominent Saudi analyst who’d been interviewed by government-linked broadcasters; and Abdulrahman al-Shehri, a journalist and writer.