The fact that Saudi Arabia is currently the chair of the UN Human Rights Council demonstrates rank hypocrisy – and just how meaningless this “badge” has become. This leadership position should be exclusively reserved for countries that genuinely believe in Human Rights and actually behave that way.

This is really upsetting and disappointing. I was one of the founding postdocs at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). While the initial research, career and pay opportunities were exciting and generous, a large number of us went for the idealism (as difficult as that may now be to believe). This was supposed to be the seed of a new Saudi Arabia: with freedom of religion and free speech; the genders on campus mixing freely, unchaperoned and without suspicion; women being allowed to drive themselves and, if they so chose, remain uncovered. The University was meant to be a grand Knowledge Transfer experiment to power the economy for when the oil inevitably runs out. There are Economic Cities waiting for the Saudi scientists and engineers to fill them.

Many of us were initially skeptical and suspicious but it did really seem that Saudi Arabia under King Abdullah was changing for the better what with his National Dialogue and reforms in the pipeline.

And now…all these good guys are in prison, facing flogging or worse for simply talking and writing. For poetry. What is the real threat in that? Just some words. Just ideas.

How can you have a successful Knowledge-based Economy with draconian censorship rules and terrible penalties?

Without true freedom to exchange ideas, Saudi Arabia is doomed. When the oil runs out, there will be nothing except poor, frightened, browbeaten people in the desert. Ideas and creativity are your future oil. They need to be nurtured and encouraged, not attacked and repressed. They are needed for your survival.

A healthy society and a healthy, productive scientific community needs Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press. Dissent, no matter how uncomfortable it is to listen to, should be welcomed. The truth should not be feared. If you disagree with someone, make an argument to change their minds. If it is fair and well made, they will come to see your point of view. If not, make another. Accept the possibility that they might, instead, change your mind.

What will happen to all those promising Saudi graduate students and scientists when they adapt to KAUST and then return to the wider society? One false move, and they get flogged or executed?

How much longer do you think the foreign scientists want to be associated with this? Eventually, only those who care about money and themselves will be left. Do you want them to teach your children? Perhaps these are not the values that you want to be your legacy…

Saudi Arabia could easily change its future for the better.

King Salman, this is not right.

Please release from prison all the good people who have done nothing wrong apart from simply speaking their minds.

Please start today with Raif Badawi, his human rights lawyer, Waleed Abu al Khair, Palestinian poet, Ashraf Fayadh and Ali Mohammed Al-Nimr…