Saudi Arabia said to detain US-Saudi citizens in latest phase of crackdown

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.


By KAREEM FAHIM | The Washington Post | Published: April 5, 2019

ISTANBUL — Authorities in Saudi Arabia in recent days detained two dual U.S.-Saudi citizens during a roundup of at least half a dozen intellectuals and writers, some of whom had links to the Saudi feminist movement, according to three people briefed on the arrests.

The detentions appeared to be part of the clampdown by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on activists, dissidents and prominent figures that accelerated in September 2017 and has put hundreds of people in prison.

Most of the latest arrests occurred on Thursday, according to people briefed on the detentions, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation by the Saudi authorities. Those detained included Salah al-Haidar, a dual U.S.-Saudi citizen and the son of prominent feminist Aziza al-Yousef.

Yousef — who is currently on trial with other Saudi women's rights advocates on charges related to their activism — was temporarily released from custody last week.

Another person detained, the writer Bader al-Ibrahim, also held dual U.S. and Saudi citizenship, according to the people briefed on the arrests.

The arrests and the citizenship status of the detainees could not be independently confirmed. A spokesman for the United States embassy in Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to a request to confirm the arrests of U.S. citizens.

A Saudi government media office did not reply to an email requesting details about the detentions or the charges.

Mohammed, Saudi Arabia's day-to-day ruler, has loosened some social restrictions in the strictly conservative country, including lifting a female driving ban. At the same time, he has silenced virtually all dissenting voices in the kingdom, an absolute monarchy. He has sought also sought to enforce the crackdown beyond Saudi Arabia's borders. In October, Saudi agents killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of Mohammed, in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, in what the Saudi government has insisted was a botched operation to repatriate Khashoggi.

The timing of the most recent arrests was puzzling to some, coming barely a week after the Saudi government had generated a degree of goodwill by temporarily releasing Yousef and two other women who are on trial. Saudi officials have also recently suggested that they were responding to criticism of the crackdown and working to ensure that the worst abuses — "mistakes," as officials refer to them — would not occur again. Several of the women's right's activists have said they were tortured while in custody, an accusation that the government has denied.

The family of yet another Saudi detainee, Walid Fitaihi, a Harvard-trained doctor who also holds dual U.S. and Saudi citizenship, has said he has been imprisoned for more than a year without trial and endured torture while in custody.

Haidar, Ibrahim and others arrested were part of a loose-knit group of writers and activists who were supportive of the women's rights movement and other progressive causes but not considered to be especially visible or outspoken.

After Yousef was released last week, her family shared cheerful pictures of her homecoming, showing her posing with Haidar and other relatives in photographs that were widely shared on social media.

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