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Mohammed bin Nayef threatened by social media campaign, say Saudi prince's lawyers

Online trolls trying to paint deposed crown prince as part of a plot to destabilise Saudi Arabia, representatives say
Saudi Arabia's former crown prince, Mohammad bin Nayef Abdulaziz, sitting next to the winner's trophy after the final competition of the King's Cup season in the Red Sea city of Jeddah in 2017 (AFP)

Mohammed bin Nayef, the detained former Saudi crown prince, has been put at risk by a malicious social media campaign accusing him of plotting a coup, lawyers acting for him have warned.

The prince's lawyers on Friday told the Guardian they had written to YouTube to ask the site to take down a video in which it was claimed that Mohammed bin Nayef had been involved in a plot to overthrow his powerful replacement, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The video claims that bin Nayef - who has been detained since March 2020 - is in fact at large, and implies he is conspiring with US President-elect Joe Biden to undermine Saudi Arabia's government.

"Our client has limited access to his family or lawyers and has been prevented from seeing a personal doctor who has been responsible for his treatment for many years," said Mohammed bin Nayef's lawyers.

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“Such communication as our client does enjoy is undoubtedly monitored. Both our client and our client’s family are concerned for their safety, and it is not known whether the lives of our client and our client’s family are in jeopardy.”

Another social media campaign has emerged on Twitter in which the prince is linked to a “deep state” plot with Biden to destablise Saudi Arabia.

Research seen by the Guardian suggested that 40 percent of the tweets targeting bin Nayef, which used the hashtag #HillaryEmails, showed “bot-like behaviour".

The claims, which first appeared on Arabic-language Twitter accounts, became at one point the top-trending Twitter hashtag in Saudi Arabia, with over 170,000 tweets.

Mohammed bin Nayef, 61, was named crown prince following the death of King Abdullah in 2015. However, he was replaced by King Salman's powerful son Mohammed bin Salman in 2017 in a palace coup, and later arrested in March 2020 amid a crackdown on senior royals.

Reports emerged after their arrest that they had been detained for plotting to overthrow Mohammed bin Salman before he ascends to the throne. Some sources of the reports later backpedalled, saying they had been detained for "an accumulation of misbehaviour".

The whereabouts of bin Nayef and Prince Ahmad, a brother of King Salman detained at the same time, is unknown, though Human Rights Watch has raised concerns about the former's health.