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Saudi Arabia is detaining American activists 6 months after Khashoggi’s murder

Two dual US-Saudi citizens were detained this week along with other women’s rights activists, sources say.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is seen during a meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House on March 20, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is seen during a meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House on March 20, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia has imprisoned two US citizens as part of a fresh crackdown on dissent in the country, according to a source familiar with the detained and a report from a human rights group on Friday.

The kingdom recently arrested 11 women activists who were advocating for a woman’s right to drive in the country. They remained under arrest even after Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on women drivers. Their detainment last summer increased pressure from the international community on Saudi Arabia, and particularly de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who claims he’s modernizing his nation’s society.

Riyadh then released three of the activists in March, although many suspected it would be temporary because of their upcoming trials.

And Riyadh’s imprisonment of eight people Wednesday and Thursday — including activists and journalists — seemingly is in response to their support for the women’s rights movement in Saudi Arabia.

One of the arrested, Salah al-Haidar, is a dual US-Saudi citizen and a journalist. He’s also the son of prominent activist Aziza al-Yousef who Riyadh has arrested. The other detained American is the writer and physician Bader al-Ibrahim, also a citizen of Saudi Arabia. Every one of the people who were recently detained, including a pregnant woman, reportedly has ties to Yousef.

The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said those affected, including the source, “are a bit in shock” and that they “can’t think of any possible benefit [for doing this] other than absolutely crushing the slightest inclination towards dissent.”

And if detainment wasn’t bad enough, there are credible reports that the activists are being tortured in prison.

Normally, a US administration would push back hard against a country detaining Americans abroad. The Trump administration, though, will likely let this pass — because it has before.

The Saudi crown prince is cracking down on free speech and torturing activists. The US won’t push back.

The roundup of activists this week comes six months after dissident journalist and US resident Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul. US intelligence asserts that the crown prince ordered the killing.

But the United States has done little to punish Riyadh for the murder — other than sanction 17 Saudis for their suspected connections to the assassination plot.

What’s more, President Donald Trump continues to absolve MBS — as the crown prince is more commonly known — of any blame.

“[I]t could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump wrote in a November statement. “We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi,” he added, clearly unaware — or unwilling to accept — his intelligence agencies’ findings.

Congress, however, has pushed back. On Thursday, it officially passed a resolution to end American support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, mostly to rebuke MBS and the Trump administration in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s murder. Trump, however, has already vowed to veto it.

Which means the US likely will once again stand by as MBS plunges his country and region into conflict — and harms American citizens along the way.