Saudi authorities have arrested 22 people, including a Qatari national, for circulating online videos to “incite against public order”, broadening a crackdown on dissent launched last month.
The official state news agency said late on Wednesday, quoting an unnamed official at the Presidency of State Security, that the videos were “directly and indirectly inciting to commit illegal acts”.
The arrests came a week after King Salman ordered the lifting of a ban on women driving in the conservative kingdom — a move widely welcomed across the world.
The country’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is pushing through a reform agenda, spanning social liberalisation, as well as economic reforms seeking to wean the country off its dependence on oil revenues.
The 32-year-old crown prince has consolidated power since replacing his more experienced cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef, who was also responsible for domestic security as interior minister. There is speculation, denied by officials, that Prince Mohammed could soon inherit the throne with the abdication of his ageing, infirm father.
Last month more than two dozen people, including popular clerics and an influential businessman, were arrested. Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi foreign minister, said these detainees had been pursuing an extremist agenda and taking funding from foreign governments.
Activists said the crackdown, criticised by human rights groups, appeared to be linked to the Qatar crisis.
Saudi Arabia and its allies, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, cut diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar in June over accusations of supporting terrorism. Doha denies the claims.
The quartet’s boycott of Qatar has raised tensions across the region, reducing the prospect for a quick resolution to a crisis that has turned western allies against one another.
Separately, the Saudi interior ministry said 24 people were arrested in the northern city of Hail over using social media to “provoke sedition and tribal tensions” in connection with a family dispute under investigation.
This had led to an “illegal” gathering in front of the headquarters of the regional governorate, the ministry said.