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Saudi Arabia arrests woman who 'insulted' Mohammed bin Salman, say rights groups

Amani Alzain was target of Twitter campaign after she apparently referred to crown prince as 'father of the saw'
In video chat recorded last year, Alzain said words 'Abu Munshar' (father of the saw) in apparent reference to Mohammed bin Salman (AFP/File photo)

Rights groups have voiced concerns for the safety of a Saudi woman who was reportedly arrested after she "insulted" Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) on social media.

Amani Alzain, a 40-year-old Jeddah resident, was targeted by government loyalists in a social media campaign after she apparently referred to MBS as "Abu Munshar", meaning "father of the saw", while on a live video chat with Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim late last year.

The crown prince became known as "Abu Munshar" after the killing and dismemberment of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by government agents at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul.

On Wednesday, Prisoners of Conscience, a Twitter account that tracks political arrests in Saudi Arabia, reported that Alzain had been detained. The news was also confirmed by the Beirut-based advocacy group the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR).

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"GCHR calls for the immediate release of Amani Alzain and for all those arrested in violation of their right to freedom of expression, including women’s rights defenders," the group said in a statement.

Later on Wednesday, the Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties called on Saudi authorities to reveal the fate of Alzain.

"Geneva Council for Rights and Liberties renews its call for Saudi authorities to end the campaigns of arrests against the right of free expression and to immediately release all the prisoners of conscience and compensate them for the damage and abuse that they faced," the group said in a statement in Arabic.

Scared for her

Alzain's social media activity stopped on 16 May. She was detained on 17 May, according to GCHR.

She had been active on both Facebook and Twitter, publishing several posts daily mostly about lifestyle and literature. Whenever she addressed politics, she largely expressed opinions supportive of Saudi Arabia. 

In fact, days before she ceased posting, she shared several tweets against the leaders of Qatar and Turkey, echoing Riyadh's perspective on regional feuds. 

In the video chat with Ghonim, Alzain appeared to laugh when the Egyptian activist said he loved MBS, joking that the crown prince would drown him in oil. 

"Abu Munshar," Alzain responded.

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Ghonim quickly steered the conversation away from politics, saying half-jokingly that he was scared for her.

The video was recorded last October, but it resurfaced this month, sparking the Arabic hashtag "Amani Alzain insults crown prince". Pro-government Twitter users also denounced Alzain over her appearing in a tank-top, stressing that her outfit was too revealing for a Saudi woman.

Ghonim and the Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to MEE's request for comment.

MBS has been at the helm of a brutal crackdown on dissent that has seen thousands of Saudis arbitrarily detained, tortured and stripped of their assets.

Earlier this month, 17 organisations including Amnesty International, the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) and Code Pink called on Riyadh to release jailed women's rights activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul.

"We, the undersigned, call on Saudi authorities to end their campaign to silence dissent and repress freedom of expression, release all prisoners of conscience, and immediately and unconditionally drop legal charges against them," the groups said in a statement on 15 May, marking the anniversary of Hathloul's detention.

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