The “new” Saudi Arabia continues to distinguish itself by prosecuting innocuous dissenters out of spite:
Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor has charged a man, identified by activists as a prominent economist who once criticised plans to float shares of Saudi Aramco, with joining a terrorist organisation and meeting with foreign diplomats.
The economist, Essam al-Zamil, is being prosecuted because he had the temerity to question one of Mohammed bin Salman’s grandiose plans for the future of the country. As it happens, the Aramco IPO isn’t happening and was reportedly shut down by the king himself, but that isn’t stopping the crown prince from having an innocent man charged with terrorism for questioning the wisdom of his agenda. Zamil is one of a number of intellectuals and dissidents who were rounded up in last year’s September crackdown. Jamal Khashoggi mentioned him in his op-ed about the crackdown last year:
We spend endless hours on the phone trying to understand this wave of arrests that have included my friend, businessman and thoughtful Twitter personality Essam Al-Zamil. It was just last Tuesday that he returned home from the United States, having been part of an official Saudi delegation. That is how breathtakingly fast you can fall out of favor with Saudi Arabia. It is all quite shocking. But this has not been business as usual in my country.
This man’s year-long detention and prosecution on spurious charges are more proof of the increasing repression and authoritarianism of Saudi Arabia under Mohammed bin Salman’s de facto rule. This is not a government that the U.S. should be indulging and backing to the hilt, but unfortunately under this administration that has been the policy and will continue to be unless Congress does something to change it. The prince that Western politicians and businessmen feted just a few months ago is a cruel despot and a war criminal, and it is long past time that he was treated accordingly.
Update: There are now reports that Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi exile whose 2017 op-ed I quoted above, was kidnapped when he went to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier today:
The kidnapping of prominent Saudi exile writer @JKhashoggi inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul would be shocking even by the increasingly aggressive authoritarianism of Mohammad bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia. https://t.co/TBWcezKrGD
— Evan Hill (@evanchill) October 2, 2018
Second Update: Middle East Eye has more on the apparent abduction of Khashoggi:
Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist, has disappeared after visiting his country’s consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday, his fiancée told Middle East Eye.
“He entered at 1pm [11am BST] and hasn’t surfaced since then. I have no media statements to make at this point, but I have contacted Turkish authorities for help,” Khashoggi’s fiancée, who did not want to be named, told MEE by phone.
Third Update: The Washington Post reports that Khashoggi’s friends and family now fear for his safety.