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Riyadh regime employs arbitrary arrest to muffle Israel normalization opponents, rights group says

This picture shows a general view of maximum-security al-Ha'ir Prison, located approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Reuters)

An independent nongovernmental organization advocating human rights in Saudi Arabia says the Riyadh regime is making use of arbitrary arrest to silence vociferous opponents of normalization of diplomatic relations between the kingdom and Israel.

The London-based rights group ALQST said Saudi officials have kept writer and researcher Abdullah al-Yahya behind bars since December 24 last year, after he criticized normalization with the Israeli regime in a series of posts published on Twitter.

The organization highlighted that Yahya is not the first Saudi citizen to be arrested because of his support for the Palestinian cause and opposition to normalization, as Saudi authorities have previously detained dozens of preachers, academics and bloggers for their refusal to establishment of ties between Riyadh and Tel Aviv.

Last April, the so-called Special Criminal Court in Riyadh sentenced famous Saudi blogger Abdulaziz al-Odah to five years in prison for opposing normalization of relations with the Tel Aviv regime.

The Prisoners of Conscience, an independent nongovernmental organization advocating human rights in Saudi Arabia, announced in a post on its official Twitter page at the time that Odah was detained in September 2019 on the grounds of his rejection of normalization with Israel.

On Monday, a high-ranking official at the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs said Israel is working behind the scenes towards normalization of diplomatic relations with Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, more than a year after the regime reached similar US-brokered agreements with a number of Arab states.

“These are the two countries we want to reach an agreement with, but it is a slow process that takes a lot of time and effort. We hope for the best,” the unnamed official noted at a media briefing.

Even though Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have formal diplomatic relations, Riyadh has taken a number of steps in recent years toward normalizing relations with the Tel Aviv regime.

Saudi authorities were said to have given a behind-the-scenes green light to the UAE forging ties with Israel last year, and have since allowed Israeli aircraft to use the kingdom’s airspace for direct flights to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. 

Riyadh says it would not normalize relations with Tel Aviv outside of the framework of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The United States has raised the issue of normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel in recent years. Jared Kushner, ex-US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, wrote in March 2021 that normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel was “in sight”.

According to a report by US media outlet Axios, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan brought up the idea of Saudi Arabia normalizing ties with Israel during a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in September 2021.

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