Legitimate reforms that benefit women mask a larger outbreak of freedom and dissent in Saudi Arabia, the international monitor Human Rights Watch said Monday.
Reforms such as allowing women to drive or to appear in public performances followed Mohammed bin Salman's ascension to crown prince in June 2017. Prince Mohammed said he wanted to reshape the world view of the kingdom, historically as an isolated incubator of Islamist radicals.
But behind the scenes, Saudi authorities have severely suppressed opponents of opponents Prince, 34, targeting prominent clergy, academics, women and human rights activists, leading businessmen and even other members of the royal family, the watchdog said, Human Rights Watch, in a 62-page report.
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"Allegations have emerged from violent torture and mistreatment," the report states.
The assaults did not become widely publicized until Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for The Washington Post, was brutally killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 201
The CIA quickly concluded that Prince Mohammed ordered the assassination of Khashoggi, a critic of Saudi Arabia's crackdown on dissent. The prince said a month ago that he, as the kingdom's leader, took responsibility for Khashoggi's death, but denied that he had ordered it.
In January, NBC News reported that former US officials and diplomats were deeply troubled by America's reluctance to confront Saudi Arabia over its continuing human rights violations. They said that the United States' failure to confront the kingdom was a decade-long rejection of US politics that would serve as a tacit green light that signaled the approval of the Trump administration.
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Michael Page, deputy director of Human Rights Watch in the Middle East, acknowledged Monday that the prince had "created a entertainment sector and allowed women to travel and drive. "
But "there is no real reform in Saudi Arabia if it takes place in a dystopia where rights activists are imprisoned and freedom of speech exists only for those who publicly malign them," he said.