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Saudi detains 9 academics, writers in new crackdown

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Dubai (AFP)

Saudi Arabia has detained at least nine people including academics and writers in the latest in a series of public crackdowns over the past two years, campaigners said on Monday.

Journalists, bloggers and activists were among the nine arrested in a crackdown that began on November 16, rights group ALQST said.

"Saudi authorities have carried out new arrests of journalists, writers and activists, both women and men, in recent days," ALQST said in a statement.

"They have also stepped up their torture, sexual harassment and abuse of existing prisoners of conscience."

Prisoners of Conscience, a Saudi group that tracks political prisoners, also confirmed that nine people had been detained.

The group said on Twitter that writer Suleiman al-Nasser was among those detained on "the grounds of his intellectual opinions", as was blogger Fuad al-Farhan for his "intellectual activities".

There was no immediate comment from the Saudi authorities.

The detentions underscore what liberal activists call increasing repression and authoritarianism under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's de facto rule as he consolidates his grip on power.

Saudi Arabia has faced intense global criticism since the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October last year.

The killing sparked unprecedented scrutiny of the kingdom's human rights record, including its crackdown on women activists, many of whom have accused interrogators of sexual harassment and torture.

Saudi prosecutors roundly rejected such accusations in court.

Riyadh has faced pressure from Western governments to release the women, most of whom were detained in summer last year in a wide-ranging crackdown on activists just before the historic lifting of a decades-long ban on female motorists.

In April, Saudi Arabia mounted a fresh crackdown that sent shock waves through the kingdom.

Authorities arrested at least nine writers and academics, including two US citizens, in what appeared to be a targeted crackdown on supporters of the detained women activists, campaigners said.

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