Activists say authorities in Saudi Arabia have arrested at least 40 people—including clerics, scholars, and political commentators—in the past week, the Wall Street Journal reports. Saudi authorities, who won't name or quantify the arrested, say they were working against the government on behalf of foreign powers, according to the New York Times, which adds a poet, journalist, and prince to the tally of arrested individuals. An unidentified Saudi official says the arrested were receiving funding from two foreign countries. And authorities say many of them have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Saudi Arabia. They say the arrested were in the early stages of planning a coup against the government.
But critics of the government don't believe that to be the case, with rights groups characterizing the arrests as a "coordinated crackdown on dissent," Al Jazeera reports. They say it's possibly a result of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman consolidating power as he prepares to take over. Bin Salman became heir to the throne in June, and Amnesty International says things have "deteriorated" since then. "In recent years we cannot recall a week in which so many prominent Saudi Arabian figures have been targeted in such a short space of time,” says the Middle East director of campaigns for the organization. He says the message is clear: "Freedom of expression will not be tolerated" under the new ruler. In addition, many of the arrested had been critical of the Saudi government's decision to cut diplomatic ties with Qatar.