DUBAI/RIYADH, April 15 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia, rattled by regional turmoil that has destabilised the Middle East, is intensifying a crackdown on domestic dissent, raising fears that a more open space for public debate that emerged in recent years is under threat.
Sunni Islamists, Shi’ite Muslims, liberal reformers, atheists and human rights advocates have all been targeted through a series of arrests and new laws in what one activist has described as an “undeclared state of emergency”.
Social media, and what analysts describe as King Abdullah’s efforts to foster a more open atmosphere since the turn of the century, have given Saudis greater scope than ever before to criticise the authorities and discuss topics once seen as taboo.
However, since the 2011 Arab uprisings, the world’s No. 1 oil exporter, has taken a far harsher line against many forms of dissent, jailing liberal reformers and religious critics on charges ranging from sedition to jeopardising state security.