BEIRUT — A Saudi women’s rights activist was driving in the United Arab Emirates when she was pulled over by security officers, thrown on a plane to Saudi Arabia and jailed.
In Canada, when a Saudi student refused to stop making YouTube videos criticizing the kingdom’s rulers, two of his brothers back home were imprisoned.
So when a prominent Saudi critic, Jamal Khashoggi, disappeared after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last week, it hardly surprised Saudi dissidents living abroad — until Turkish officials said they believed he had been killed.
Even for a country that has long used fear and enticements to control dissent, the prospect that the state had killed a well-known dissident writer in a foreign country represented a startling escalation.
As Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pushed his vision for modernizing Saudi Arabia, he has increasingly shown little tolerance for criticism. He has jailed women’s rights activists, locked up businessmen and rival royals, and has reached across borders to keep Saudi expatriates in line, significantly raising the stakes of speaking out, even in foreign countries.
It remains unclear what happened to Mr. Khashoggi, who has not been seen since he entered the consulate last Tuesday. Turkish officials say he was killed by Saudi agents there and his body dismembered. Saudi officials deny it, saying Mr. Khashoggi left the consulate soon after he arrived.
But Saudi dissidents abroad have little doubt that their government targeted Mr. Khashoggi because of his prominence. A resident of the United States, he regularly appeared on television and contributed columns to The Washington Post.
“It’s a message, very clear, that our hands can reach you wherever you are,” said Ghanem al-Dosary, a longtime dissident in London who has a large social media following.
If Saudi agents are found to have killed Mr. Khashoggi, the reverberations could sabotage Saudi Arabia’s international relations, starting with its neighbor Turkey.