He added: “It is a first-step diplomatic win for MbS [Mohammad bin Salman], though he will hope to capitalise upon it further by supporting efforts to bring a negotiated settlement to the Ukraine war. However, brokering the prisoner swap is not about to change popular perceptions of MbS.”
In recent weeks, Saudi Arabia has intensified a crackdown on dissent in the Kingdom, handing down unprecedented jail sentences to those who criticise the leadership online.
This includes Salma al-Shehab, a Leeds University medical student who was jailed for 34 years for criticising the Kingdom when she visited Saudi Arabia for a holiday. She was reportedly caught by a snitching app which allows Saudi citizens to report state criticism to the authorities.
The prisoner swap has not been welcomed by Saudi human rights activists, who have accused the Crown Prince of hypocrisy. “Release the ones you imprisoned! Nobody will be fooled by this,” tweeted Lina al-Hathloul, an activist and the sister of jailed Saudi feminist Loujain.
However, it has been warmly received by Western politicians. Liz Truss tweeted, in response to the deal: