Saudi forces have reportedly raided houses in the kingdom’s Shia-majority and oil-rich Eastern Province and arrested nearly a dozen young men from the religious minority.
The Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in the Arabian Peninsula (CDHRAP) said in a statement that Saudi troops onboard armored vehicles stormed residential buildings in Hafar al-Batin city, al-Awamiyah town and Umm al-Hamam village of Qatif region on Monday morning and detained ten youths.
The rights organization added that the forces took the young men away to an unknown location.
Saudi Arabia has stepped up politically-motivated arrests, prosecution, and conviction of peaceful dissident writers and human rights campaigners, in particular in Eastern Province.
The province has been the scene of peaceful demonstrations since February 2011. Protesters have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression, the release of political prisoners, and an end to economic and religious discrimination against the region.
The protests have been met with a heavy-handed crackdown, with regime forces increasing security measures across the province.
Last month, social media activists reported that Saudi forces had detained prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Hassan al-Khuwailidi amid authorities’ attempts to silence influential religious scholars and press ahead with plans aimed at Westernizing the cultural setting of Saudi Arabia, which is greatly influenced by the Arab and Islamic culture.
Saudi officials sentenced prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Kadhim al-Amri to four years in prison in late December last year.
The Lebanon-based al-Ahed news website reported that the clergyman – who is the son of the late Sheikh Muhammad al-Amri and among distinguished religious figures in the holy city of Medina – received the ruling on December 24.
Ever since bin Salman became Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto leader in 2017, the kingdom has arrested dozens of activists, bloggers, intellectuals, and others perceived as political opponents, showing almost zero tolerance for dissent even in the face of international condemnations of the crackdown.
As a result, Islamic scholars have been executed, women’s rights campaigners have been put behind bars and tortured, and freedom of expression, association, and belief continue to be denied.
Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.
In January 2016, Saudi authorities executed Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, who was an outspoken critic of the Riyadh regime. Nimr had been arrested in Qatif in 2012.