The Saudi regime locks up and tortures campaigners who advocate reforms it agrees with. This needs to stop

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, has arguably the worst record in the world when it comes to religious freedom, civil liberties and women’s rights. This would not have changed much if the kingdom’s 82-year-old monarch, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, seen as a conservative figure, was in charge. However, the king is decrepit and does not run the country. Since he ascended to the throne almost four years ago, King Salman’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has driven Saudi policy. The prince has certainly shaken things up: starting wars abroad, sparking a crisis with Canada over its well-founded concern about human rights in the kingdom and ordering – it appears – the macabre murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The silver lining on the cloud of his reign was meant to be the prince’s vision for a new, modern nation. But it turns out that Prince Mohammed is too much of a dangerous narcissist to share the limelight with like-minded reformers. He no doubt cannot tolerate that others might take credit for moving the kingdom out of its medieval mindset. Hence the regime allowed women to drive last year, but a month before the ban was lifted it arrested activists who had for years peacefully advocated for the change. One of those detained was Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent campaigner who was photographed at the 2016 One Young World Summit with Meghan Markle. News of Ms al-Hathloul’s arrest leaked out a few days before Ms Markle married Prince Harry. Since November there have been credible reports that the activists, who have yet to be formally charged, have been tortured by Saudi authorities, a claim denied by Riyadh.

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