Reem Sulaiman says she was focused by Saud al-Qahtani, shut confidant of Mohammed bin Salman (Twitter)
For a second, late final 12 months, it appeared as if Saudi Arabia may be on the verge of a sea change.
Jamal Khashoggi’s homicide had drawn the world’s consideration to the human rights abuses and crackdown on dissent within the kingdom, with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s worldwide inventory plummeting consequently.
But immediately those self same folks liable for Khashoggi’s assassination are nonetheless wielding energy, in accordance with one other outspoken Saudi commentator, Reem Sulaiman.
Sulaiman, like her slain compatriot earlier than her, has been pressured into exile after her phrases caught the attention of high royal aide Saud al-Qahtani.
An in depth confidant of the crown prince, Qahtani has been implicated in Khashoggi’s homicide by the Saudi prosecutor. He has been sanctioned by a number of Saudi allies, together with the USA.
The primary initiator of the wave of abuses exercised in opposition to activists and opponents inside the dominion remains to be in energy
– Reem Sulaiman
Talking solely to Center East Eye from the Netherlands, the place she is looking for asylum, Sulaiman says Qahtani’s affect is undiminished, nonetheless.
“The primary initiator of the wave of abuses exercised in opposition to activists and opponents inside the dominion remains to be in energy,” Sulaiman tells MEE.
“I’m referring to Saud al-Qahtani, the previous adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as a result of he controls Twitter and is liable for directing editors all around the nation.”
Qahtani, who with Mohammed bin Salman’s blessing waged an data battle in opposition to any Saudi voice that diverged from the royal court docket’s most popular line, has vanished from the general public eye because the Khashoggi scandal broke in October.
Not like girls’s rights activists and different Saudis whose views have been deemed harmful by Riyadh’s rulers, nonetheless, Qahtani apparently walks free.
In accordance with the Washington Submit, the crown prince commonly seeks recommendation from him nonetheless.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is reportedly nonetheless involved with Saud al-Qahtani (Reuters)
Life within the Saudi royal court docket, it seems, is sort of unchanged.
Any hope that the added worldwide scrutiny the dominion now faces would chill out its method or restrict the facility of its 33-year-old crown prince has ebbed away – notably following a cupboard reshuffle that, if something, cemented his energy.
“The nation is run by a totalitarian regime and nobody can decide with out the consent of these with larger authority,” Sulaiman says, lamenting the “extraordinarily horrible and unbelievable” scenario her nation finds itself in.
However like many Saudis, Sulaiman is not sure that the issue lies with the inheritor to the Saudi throne himself. She questions whether or not the brutal suffocation of unbiased voices is the crown prince’s initiative, or these round him.
“I ask the identical query to myself on daily basis: ‘Might Prince Mohammad bin Salman be glad with what is occurring, or are these the practices of Saud al-Qahtani and his legal instruments?’”
Raised within the Saudi capital Riyadh, Sulaiman carved a profession for herself as a columnist in a number of government-controlled newspapers, resembling Mecca, al-Wiam and Anha.
Not like Khashoggi, she was not extensively recognized. Although she wrote for papers near the ruling household, she was removed from a royal court docket insider.
Her columns weren’t controversial, or so she thought.
What bothered them was that my writings spring from my very own conscience, not what the adviser Saud al-Qahtani needs
– Reem Sulaiman
However final summer time, one in all Qahtani’s assistants approached Sulaiman, handing her a gag order that got here straight from the crown prince’s aide.
What she wrote to draw such consideration stays a thriller to her, although she suspects they had been cautious of her unbiased thoughts.
“What bothered them was that my writings spring from my very own conscience, not what the adviser Saud al-Qahtani needs,” Sulaiman says.
Saudi limits on free expression are nothing new.
The strangulation of unbiased mental thought has, although, intensified significantly since Mohammed bin Salman rose to energy in 2017.
The Saudi censorship marketing campaign is noticeable for its brutality and viciousness. Khashoggi’s homicide and dismemberment is the obvious and chilling instance of Riyadh’s zero-tolerance coverage.
Additionally important is the best way it ruthlessly targets opinions that diverge simply the slightest from the official line.
“Each mental and author who has not participated within the treasonous campaigns and deceptive of public opinion that the nation remains to be witnessing has been focused,” Sulaiman says.
Girls stroll previous a poster of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud throughout Janadriyah Cultural Competition on the outskirts of Riyadh (Reuters)
Shocked and shaken by Qahtani’s order, Sulaiman ceased writing. However quickly after, her dwelling was stormed by males “armed to the tooth”, and he or she was detained.
For 2 days Sulaiman was interrogated, insulted and subjected to what she calls “psychological abuse”. Her captors questioned her about her articles and tweets.
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To this present day she can not perceive why she was put by means of this ordeal, after following her directions to the letter.
“It’s the query nobody can reply. Arrests and hindrance of expression usually are not restricted by particular legal guidelines or laws,” she says.
Why else, Sulaiman notes, would economist Essam al-Zamil be arrested simply after getting back from the US with an official delegation.
“It’s the identical case for Sheikh Muhammad al-Arifi, whose advocacy and tutorial actions had been stopped and he was positioned beneath home arrest,” she remembers.
At this time Sulaiman is a few 5,500km from Riyadh, Qahtani and his henchmen. Secure within the Netherlands, she has used her exile as a possibility to replicate on her expertise and spotlight the marketing campaign of concern being wrought in her nation.
Final month, she took to Twitter, detailing her detainment, interrogation, gagging and eventual escape through Bahrain.
“I did that due to what I’ve been by means of, in addition to the data that my interrogators instructed me themselves concerning the horrific and appalling violations many feminine detainees have been subjected to,” she explains.
“I put my humanity to the take a look at… Ought to I reveal this and make clear their sufferings, or go for silence and betray my ideas and people subjected to the torturers’ whip?”
Her alternative has not been with out penalties.
Instantly after she started her now-infamous thread, a legion of accounts started attacking her on-line – a well-known tactic utilized by Saudi authorities to discredit their opponents.
This Twitter military of bots and trolls, apparently created at Qahtani’s behest, is named “the flies”.
“Nobody who has criticised, objected to or revealed the injustice they had been topic to has been resistant to them,” Sulaiman acknowledges.
“I simply thank God that it didn’t become killing and dismemberment, just like the case of the martyr Jamal Khashoggi.”
High royal aide Saud al-Qahtani (Screenshot)
On-line, Sulaiman has been accused of being an agent of Qatar, the gas-rich state on Saudi Arabia’s japanese border with which the dominion is locked in a dramatic feud.
“If I had wished to be an agent, I might have chosen to remain in my nation and be an agent of the Saudi authorities,” she argues.
“Then I might profit from the privileges, extravagant salaries and shut ties with the royal court docket’s high advisers.”
“As for being a Qatari agent,” she provides, “it’s a ready-made accusation for each critic or opponent, as was the case earlier than the Gulf disaster, when folks had been accused of being an agent of the Houthis, Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood.”
If I had wished to be an agent, I might have chosen to remain in my nation and be an agent of the Saudi authorities
– Reem Sulaiman
One other line of assault she has confronted is the accusation that she just isn’t Saudi in any respect, a tactic employed with Khashoggi earlier than her.
The declare is “ridiculous”, she says, “and deserves no response”.
“I nonetheless obtain threats, however not on the identical tempo as the primary few days after I introduced I had left the nation and disclosed what occurred to me.
“Nevertheless, I believe I’ll obtain new threats if I turn into energetic within the media once more, or make tv appearances specifically.”
Dwelling in concern
Khashoggi’s destiny looms massive in Sulaiman’s creativeness, and he or she fears the “Gaddafi-like recklessness” of the Saudi rulers he described earlier than falling sufferer to it himself.
Regardless of this, she continues to really feel the pull of duty: to talk out, and defend the activists, writers, dissidents and unfortunates who’re nonetheless behind bars again in Saudi Arabia.
Her remorse, she says, is that she should do that removed from dwelling.
“I have to sadly admit that the Saudi authorities has left no alternative for activists and others besides leaving the nation. As an mental eager about public affairs, you’ll be able to both be a part of the move of reward, go away the nation, or be detained in jail. Even choosing silence is now not an enough determination,” she says.
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“In reality, the dominion’s prisons are filled with activists from completely different actions, orientations and sects. Everyone seems to be terrified.
“Many individuals want to go away the nation, however some are banned from journey and others concern being arrested on the airport on prices of attempting to flee and be a part of the opposition overseas.”
The choice of incarceration is clearly worse.
Girls’s rights activists, most of whom had been arrested in tandem with the dominion’s much-publicised determination to permit girls to drive, have reportedly been subjected to sexual abuse in detainment.
Qahtani, who visited Sulaiman’s mom in an try and strain her right into a false confession, personally oversaw the torture of 1 feminine activist, in accordance with reviews.
“The human rights scenario is at its most troublesome and worst. There is no such thing as a supervisory physique defending the rights of detainees in prisons. Prisoners usually are not allowed to have a lawyer, and occasional visits from households are banned as nicely,” the columnist says.
“What has been printed concerning the abuses can’t be the tip of the story, and I believe there are nonetheless extra horrible and horrible incidents but to be confirmed, even killings.”
A demonstrator dressed as Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman holds ‘the royal bone noticed’ outdoors the White Home (AFP)
For now, Sulaiman sees no rapid strategy to finish the mounting abuses.
“We’re not dwelling with actual state establishments and democracy just isn’t being applied,” she notes. “The folks haven’t any say or opinion.”
Nonetheless, she says worldwide strain may help, and welcomed the latest demand issued by British MPs to go to detained activists. On Thursday, the cross-party group stated Riyadh failed to reply to its request.
The applying course of for official asylum within the Netherlands is ongoing, however Sulaiman is assured she will probably be profitable.
She does intend to return dwelling at some point, although, when the time is correct.
“When prisoners of conscience come out of prisons and activists can specific their views,” she says.
“When Saudi Arabia turns into a protected place for its residents, and ensures their freedom, dignity and lives.”