Saudi Arabia is accelerating efforts to bring dissidents back to the country. The kingdom, which has seen its reputation on the international stage plummet following the murder of journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, is reported to be intensifying efforts to ensure than its narrative of reform is not undermined by the growing number of disaffected Saudis living abroad.
Riyadh’s new strategy, according to a report in the Financial Times, is to take a softer approach in order to persuade critics and dissidents to come home with assurances about their safety upon return, two people familiar with the matter said.
“Someone close to the leadership or another mediator would typically contact you and say: ‘I have a personal message from the crown prince’, promising that there would be no harm or jail time if you decide to take up the offer,” an anonymous Saudi exile is quoted saying in the FT.
A standing order that was in effect during the murder of Khashoggi has not been withdrawn and the kingdom is still anxious about bringing dissidents, which is estimated to reach 50,000 by 2030, back home.
The people said that there was deep unease about a vocal Saudi diaspora community. Their growing number is said to have prompted the royal court to commission a study on the topic.
“A big part of their concern is that this group abroad is engaged in lobbying at the UN, EU and Congress in the US,” a Saudi activist based in Europe is reported saying. “They have played a central role in the backlash against Saudi Arabia in recent months because they have been working in an unprecedented way. If they remained silent the international community would have forgotten and moved on.”
Last week one of these dissident groups invited the UN’s extrajudicial executions investigator, Agnes Callamard to an event in London to speak about her latest report into Khashoggi’s death.
Callamard went through the conclusion of her report that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was responsible for the journalist’s enforced disappearance, torture and extrajudicial execution. She said that 15 Saudi agents acted under their official status and used state resources to commit murder. High-level officials in Riyadh oversaw the elaborate planning, which involved private jets, diplomatic clearances, a forensic doctor and Saudi consular staff in Istanbul.
Prior to his murder, Khashoggi who was in self-exile, was one of the most well-known dissidents of the reform drive overseen by Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman. The Washington Post journalist, was most critical about the limits on press freedoms and human rights violations in the country.