Saudi Arabia is urging people to report subversive social media activity via a phone app, part of an apparent crackdown on potential government critics before demonstrations called for by exiled opposition figures.
A message sent on a Twitter account run by the interior ministry late on Tuesday called on citizens and residents to monitor each other for what it called “information crimes”.
“When you notice any account on social networks publishing terrorist or extremist ideas, please report it immediately via the application #We’re_all_security”, it said, referring to a mobile phone app launched last year to enable civilians to report traffic violations and burglaries.
Hours later, the public prosecutor tweeted a section of the kingdom’s terrorism law which states: “Endangering national unity, obstructing the Basic Law of governance or some of its articles, and harming the state’s reputation or status are terrorist crimes.”
Exiled Saudi critics have called for demonstrations on Friday and at least a dozen prominent clerics, intellectuals and activists.
Protests are banned in Saudi Arabia as are political parties. Unions are illegal, the press is controlled and criticism of the royal family can lead to prison.
Riyadh says it does not have political prisoners, while top officials have said monitoring activists is needed to maintain social stability.
The detentions reported by activists follow widespread speculation, denied by officials, that King Salman intends to abdicate to his son, Crown Prince Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who dominates economic, diplomatic and domestic policy.
It also coincides with growing tensions with Qatar over its alleged support of Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood which is listed by Riyadh as a terrorist organisation.
Some Twitter users expressed support for the government’s approach, using the “We’re all Security” hashtag.
“No flattery, no silence whether for a relative or friend in securing the homeland,” said one. “Defend your security. Chaos starts with calls for freedom and reform. Do not believe them.”
State news agency SPA said on Tuesday authorities had uncovered “intelligence activities for the benefit of foreign parties” by a group of people it did not identify.
A Saudi security source told Reuters the suspects were accused of “espionage activities and having contacts with external entities including the Muslim Brotherhood”, which Riyadh has classified as a terrorist organization.
The government toughened its stance on dissent following the Arab Spring in 2011.
But the Brotherhood, which represents an ideological threat to Riyadh’s dynastic system of rule, has gained power elsewhere in the region.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and transport links with Qatar in June over its alleged support for Islamist militants, a charge that Doha denies.