Saudi Arabia detained 298 government officials on Sunday, March 15 on grounds of corruption. Saudi’s Nazaha, the National Anti-Corruption Commission, accused the 298 officials of financial and administrative corruption, embezzlement, waste of public money, exploitation of position, and public office administration misuse.
“The fight against corruption is no excuse for flagrant due process violations and preventing people from mounting an adequate defense,” Michael Page, the deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said. “Given their track record of abuse, the Saudi authorities should make fundamental reforms to the justice system to ensure that the accused will not be railroaded in unfair legal proceedings.”
The track record of abuse Page refers to can be attributed to the 2017 “corruption crackdown”. In the crackdown, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) detained businessmen, royal family members, and government officials. This could have been a legitimate crackdown but the original amount of targeted money and assets came to a total of $800 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.
These detainments are being used as a facade to secure MbS’s spot as an heir to the throne. MbS is the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia as a result of King Salman’s deteriorating health. But that does not mean he will be chosen as the heir to the throne.
Before MbS became Crown Prince, Muhammad bin Nayef held the position, and before him, Muqrin bin Abdulaziz al Saud. MbS arrested Nayef, along with up to 20 other princes and officials, earlier this month, for allegedly plotting a coup against MbS.
“I don’t think the possibility of a coup is even feasible at this time, in terms of where the military is and its potential participation in that,” Khalil Jahshan of the Arab Centre in D.C. said. “I think [the arrest is] another attempt from MBS to exert, in a paranoid way, for control over the kingdom.”
The 2017 crackdown showed MbS had no issue violating international human rights standards, including the right to not be arbitrarily detained and the right to not be tortured. However, now in 2020, with an international economic crisis, which pertains to oil prices, and coronavirus in full swing, MbS may go further in his violations of human rights.