THE holy month of Ramadan used to be an occasion for royal amnesties in Saudi Arabia. But instead of granting pardons, Muhammad bin Salman, the crown prince and power behind the throne, has added to the 2,000 or so political prisoners detained since September. Over the past month his goons have arrested 17 liberal activists. Nine are women, some of whom campaigned for the right to drive.
Prince Muhammad has loosened the kingdom’s social restrictions. The decades-old ban on female drivers will be lifted on June 24th. But when citizens demand new rights, instead of waiting patiently to be granted them by royal decree, they are often locked up. The effect has been stifling. Before talking politics over the phone, Saudis take precautions, such as using virtual private networks and encrypted dialling services. Many have purged their Twitter accounts or closed them. “Sorry. I’m not ready to talk,” writes a once-verbose activist. They are all terrified, says a diplomat.
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