The report compiled by the Associated Press and published on Wednesday found out that the Saudi kingdom had been monitoring dissidents’ communications using the “military-grade” Israeli software.
Upon spotting instances of dissent, the kingdom would then resort to handing out heavy sentences and imprisoning the targeted individuals if they return home.
“Over the last five years, Saudi surveillance, intimidation, and pursuit of Saudis on US soil have intensified as the kingdom steps up repression under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, according to the FBI, rights groups, and two years of interviews with Saudis living abroad,” the report said.
This is by far not the first time that the kingdom has been found culpable of practicing the procedure, which is known as “transnational repression”.
The AP report cited the instance of Abdullah bin Faisal Al Saud, a Saudi Prince, who is a graduate student at Boston’s Northeastern University.
The royal was arrested and jailed on a trip back home after Saudi officials found out that he had been discussing Riyadh’s imprisonment of his cousin — a fellow prince — with his relatives while in the US.
“Abdullah was imprisoned because of those calls. An initial 20-year sentence was hiked to 30 years in August,” the report added.
In the same month that Prince Abdullah’s sentence was lengthened, Saudi Arabia gave a 72-year-old Saudi-American, Sa’ad al Madi, a virtual life sentence for tweets that he had posted from his home in Florida. Al Madi was also imprisoned on a visit home.
Freedom House, a research and advocacy group, says Saudi Arabia has targeted critics in 14 countries. “The aim is to spy on Saudis and intimidate them, or compel them to return to the kingdom,” AP reported, citing the group.
“It’s disturbing, it’s terrifying, and it’s a major violation of protected speech,” Freedom House’s Nate Schenkkan said of the recent imprisonments of Western-based Saudis.
Ever since bin Salman became Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler in 2017, the kingdom has been implicated in a litany of human rights abuses. They include Riyadh’s arresting of hundreds of activists, bloggers, intellectuals, and other people for their political activism, showing almost zero tolerance for dissent even in the face of international condemnation of the crackdown.
The Saudi royal is also accused of ordering the 2018 brutal murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a US-Saudi citizen, who used to be a vocal critic of the Saudi royalty. Khashoggi was dismembered during a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Rights groups say the Israeli spyware had been installed on the phone of Khashoggi’s fiancée.