A French report said that the Al Saud regime is speeding up its opponents’ trials, fearing that their files will become “bargaining tools” as US President Joe Biden’s administration takes over his duties.
The Agence France-Presse reported that the Al Saud regime expedited the trials of those described as dissidents, including a prominent Saudi-American doctor.
“Fearing that they turn into bargaining tools in a possible early confrontation with the incoming Biden administration.”
Fears of Biden
Biden, who will be formally in power two weeks later, pledged to re-evaluate ties with Saudi Arabia over its human rights record.
The Donald Trump administration has turned a blind eye to what human rights organizations consider violations in the kingdom.
After a years-ago crackdown on dissidents, the trials will likely put Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on a collision course with Biden.
Biden has also pledged to suspend US arms sales to the kingdom due to Yemen’s five-year war.
Recently, the activist, Loujain Al-Hathloul, was sentenced to nearly six years in prison, with a stay of execution that makes her release after two months a possibility.
While Dr Walid Fitaihi, a graduate of Harvard University, faces possible re-imprisonment after a long period of pre-trial detention.
Last month, Fitaihi, the founder of a prominent hospital in Jeddah, was sentenced to six years in prison.
Fitaihi, 56, is still at large pending his appeal to the court this week.
Fitaihi, who has nearly 2 million Twitter followers, was released in 2019.
After nearly two years of detention, first in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh as part of the so-called anti-corruption campaign.
Later, he was detained in Al-Ha’ir prison, near Riyadh.
Activists and Fitaihi family said he was tortured, including with electric shocks. US lawmakers describe his detention as politically motivated.
He was accused of charges including obtaining US citizenship without official permission and tweeting in support of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.
A source close to his family said Saudi Arabia might use such issues as a “negotiating tool” to soften Biden’s stance.
The source added that through such political trials, “Saudi Arabia says to Biden: Come on, let’s negotiate.”
There are two other Saudi-American prisoners on trial. In two separate cases, Salah Al-Haidar, the son of a prominent women’s rights activist. The second is a writer and doctor named Badr Al-Ibrahim.
The Al Saud authorities have not officially commented on their arrest or the charges against them.
The Al Saud regime is also proceeding with the trial of Sheikh Salman al-Awda, a prominent cleric who was arrested in 2017 before a court specialized in combating terrorism after he called for reconciliation in the Gulf in a tweet he wrote.
In addition to dozens of detained activists and members of the royal family, Saudi Arabia is also bringing corruption charges to ousted former crown prince Muhammad bin Nayef, a longtime CIA ally, who has been in custody since March.
A British parliamentary fact-finding committee said last month that the Al Saud authorities threatened to return him to solitary confinement despite his precarious health condition if he did not “release funds” related to unproven allegations, describing this tactic as “blackmail.”
Bin Salman’s bet
“It is striking to see Prince Mohammed doubling down on these domestic cases,” Kristin Diwan of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington said.
“He could be tightening up with an eye to negotiations with Biden. Or he could be setting new red lines: internal Saudi affairs are off-limits.”
A source close to the kingdom’s leadership said Saudi rulers were “determined not to be pressured on this issue, so I don’t see room for bargaining here”.
The trials, the source told AFP, were being speeded up now to “close the files”.