When President Biden visited Saudi Arabia in July and met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, the White House said the president raised human rights abuses and the murder of our colleague Jamal Khashoggi, the Post columnist. Mr. Biden claimed he had “received commitments on reform and institutional safeguards to guard against such behavior in the future.” It is now clear that these “commitments” were a fiction.
Since Mr. Biden left, Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court, which handles counterterrorism and cybercrime-related cases and is notorious for using vague laws to punish dissent, has imposed a series of draconian prison sentences on the regime’s critics.
According to the human rights group Democracy for the Arab World Now, or DAWN, which Khashoggi helped found, Nourah bint Saeed al-Qahtani was sentenced last month to 45 years in prison, followed by a travel ban of the same length. Court documents seen by DAWN show the 49-year-old mother of five was accused of using Twitter to criticize the king and crown prince and stalking and retweeting others who did so. Ms al-Qahtani was not widely known and her Twitter account only had about 500 followers, yet her tweets were allegedly threats to the “security and stability of society and the state,” responsible for “shaking the social fabric,” court documents said to say. In addition, she was found to possess a 2013 book by a now-arrested Saudi scholar, Salman al-Odah, entitled “I… And Her Sisters: A Journey Into The Mysteries Of The Self,” written for introspection and for Overcoming one’s own ego encouraged. Could it be that MBS, the despot monarch, is so threatened by a self-help book that Ms. al-Qahtani has to spend the rest of her life in prison? Some might call MBS a strong man, but his actions against innocent women reflect pathetic weakness.
Ms al-Qahtani’s sentence, increased from an initial 13-year sentence, came as the court sentenced women’s rights activist Salma al-Shehab to a staggering 34 years for posts on her Twitter account. And there’s more. Human rights group ALQST reports that two men, Abdulilah al-Huwaiti and Abdullah Dukhail al-Huwaiti, were both sentenced to 50 years in prison by the Specialized Criminal Court in August. They had supported her family’s refusal to be evicted from their homes to make way for the Crown Prince’s fantasy city in the desert called Neom. And the group announced that a writer, translator and computer programmer, Osama Khaled, who has been imprisoned since 2020, has been sentenced to 32 years in prison – extended on appeal from an original five-year sentence – on “charges relating to the right to… freedom speech.”
The crown prince presents himself as a modernizer who enables women’s rights. But behind the curtain he annihilates individuals over the smallest trifle. These cases show that Mr. Biden was duped in Jeddah. He must not remain silent. He should openly denounce such barbaric brawls.