Saudi Arabia has intensified the crackdown against human rights activists in the new year, human rights organisation Amnesty International said. A string of arrests in the last ten days shows that the Islamic state under absolute monarchy is crushing peaceful dissent, the rights watchdog said.
"The latest string of arrests has sparked fears that 2017 will be yet another dark year for human rights in Saudi Arabia, as the authorities continue with their attempts to crush any semblance of a human rights movement in the country," Amnesty's Deputy Director Lynn Maalouf said in a statement.
The rights organisation said a prominent Saudi activist was sentenced to eight years in prison on Tuesday. The activist, Abdulaziz al-Shubaily, was tried in a Specialized Criminal Court which deals with counterterrorism cases, Amnesty said. His twitter account was probed and he was accused of "communicating with foreign organizations" and providing information to Amnesty International, the statement said.
Over the weekend another activist, Essam Koshak, was summoned to a police station by the police investigation wing, but he never made it back home. The activist was not allowed to appoint a lawyer. In another prominent case last week, Ahmed al-Mushaikhass, a founding member of the Adala Centre for Human Rights, was summoned to the police station where he was arrested.
The brother of Ahmed, Yussuf al-Mushaikhass, is in a death row in Saudi Arabia's eastern province, where he was sentenced to death in 2016 after taking part in anti-government protests.
"Human rights activists in Saudi Arabia are an endangered species. One by one they are vanishing – prosecuted, jailed, intimidated into silence or forced into exile - highlighting the authorities' zero tolerance approach to freedom of expression," the Amnesty statement said.
The public flogging of prominent blogger Raif Badawi in 2015 had made international headlines. Badawi was in the crosshairs of the Saudi authorities after he started a liberal website. Badawi, who was accused of insulting religious authorities, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes.