HRW: Saudi Arabia bans prominent cleric's family from travel

King Salman on Saturday announced a string of benefits for Saudi citizens, particularly students, military personnel and public servants, to "soften the impact of the economic reforms" in the coming year.

"The allocation of 50 billion riyals for this decree indicates the leadership's concern for the people's comfort and quality of living", Minister of Culture and Information Awwad bin Saleh Alawwad told the Saudi-owned Al Sharq Al Awsat newspaper.

The rights group said in a statement Sunday that Salman al-Awda is among dozens arrested since mid-September. Qatar denies the allegations. Prince Mohammed, who sidelined his cousin as heir to the throne, has since consolidated his grip on the kingdom's economy in a meteoric rise in the royal court.

"There's no justification for punishing family members of a detainee without showing even the slightest evidence or accusation of wrongdoing on their part".

In a bid to strengthen non-oil revenues and reduce the burden on state finances, Riyadh increased fuel and energy prices and, on January 1, introduced 5 percent VAT.

Saudi Arabia's attorney general said "no one is above the law" after the princes were detained outside a palace in Riyadh, where they had gathered last week to demonstrate against a government decision to stop paying the water and electricity bills of royals. "A royal order was issued to the royal intervene and they were detained and put into al-Hayer prison in preparation to put them on trial". Yet, Al-Awda was allowed only one 13-minute call in October, according to his family.

"If Mohammad bin Salman wants to show that a new era has begun in Saudi Arabia, a refreshing first step would be the release of activists and dissidents who have never been charged with a recognisable crime and should never have gone to jail in the first place", Whitson said.