Saudi Arabia has recently taken steps to show that it's progressive by lifting a ban on western films and permitting women to drive.
But it's merely a facade that masks an unpalatable truth: the kingdom heads a murderous regime where critics are silenced in an increasingly repressive, violent and powerful autocracy, reports news.com.au.
Saudi Arabia is under immense international pressure over the slaying of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside its consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The incident has sparked global outrage and shone the spotlight on three of its princes who also vanished after publicly criticising the kingdom, in the years leading up to Khashoggi's murder.
Khashoggi, an outspoken critic of the Saudi leadership, was allegedly carved up with a bone saw while alive in a horrifying seven-minute execution carried out by killers listening to music on headphones. He was last seen alive entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2.
Saudi Arabia first alleged Khashoggi left the consulate on his own accord but under mounting evidence of a "cover-up" has since acknowledged a body double was on hand to aid in the operation yet still claimed his death was an accident.
But the key western ally in the Arab Middle East has a long history of killing, kidnapping and jailing its dissidents. Even royalty is among those to have been targeted and silenced.
There is evidence that Prince Sultan bin Turki bin Abdulaziz, Prince Turki bin Bandar of Paris and Prince Saud bin Saif al-Nasr, were each abducted from their homes in Europe and flown back to Saudi Arabia between 2015-2016. But the fate of all three princes remains unknown.
SULTAN BIN TURKI BIN ABDULAZIZ
Prince Sultan bin Turki — who had slammed Saudi Arabia for human rights abuses — disappeared in February 2016 after boarding a plane to fly to Cairo, Egypt.
It was soon discovered he had been kidnapped by the Saudis with about 20 members of his entourage who were also on the flight. In the documentary 'Kidnapped! Saudi Arabia's Missing Princes', two westerners in the prince's entourage describe the moment they realised the plane they were travelling on was not landing in Cairo as planned, but had instead been diverted to Riyadh. They said the prince banged on the cockpit door but was subdued by armed men in the plane crew.
When they landed, he was reportedly driven away "kicking and screaming", and shouting to his entourage that they were all being kidnapped and that they should alert their embassies.
He was never seen again. The other members of the group were released several days later.
Prince Sultan bin Turki predicted his fate telling friends: "If you didn't find me they have taken me to Riyadh. Try to do something."
PRINCE TURKI BIN BANDAR
Prince Turki bin Bandar, a former police chief, was once tasked with policing the royal family of Saudi Arabia.
But a bitter family dispute over a contested inheritance landed him in prison, and on his release in 2012 he fled to Paris, where he started posting videos on YouTube calling for reform in Saudi Arabia.
He vanished in 2015 after claiming to have received letters saying: "You son of a wh**e, we'll drag you back like Prince Sultan."
Prince Turki bin Bandar had also left a copy of a book he had written with his friend Wael, in which he had added what may be a prophetic note.
"Dear Wael, these statements are not to be shared unless I am kidnapped or assassinated," he wrote.
"I know I will be kidnapped or they will assassinate me. I also know how they abuse my rights and those of the Saudi people."
His whereabouts remain unknown, but a newspaper in Morocco reported that instead of going back to Paris, Moroccan authorities detained the dissident prince and deported him to Riyadh, at the request of Saudi Arabia.
PRINCE SAUD BIN SAIF AL-NASR OF MILAN
Around the same time Prince Turki bin Bandar vanished, Saudi prince, Saud bin Saif al-Nasr — a relatively minor royal with a penchant for gambling and luxury hotels — met a similar fate.
Prince Saud bin Saif had started writing tweets that were critical of the Saudi monarchy in 2014. That same year he demanded the prosecution of Saudi royals who supported the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
In 2015, he publicly endorsed two letters that called for a coup against King Salman. It was tantamount to treason, and soon after, he disappeared. He has not been seen since. A dissident prince told the BBC that Prince Saud bin Saif may have been tricked into boarding a flight to Saudi Arabia.
"Now Prince Saud's fate is the same as Prince Turki's, which is prison … The only fate is an underground prison," the source said.
Prince Saud bin Saif al-Nasr's whereabouts remain unknown.
SAUDI JOURNALIST JAMAL KHASHOGGI
A Saudi public prosecutor revealed on state television over the weekend that a primary investigation into high-profile journalist Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance has confirmed he is dead. It was today revealed Khashoggi's body parts have reportedly been found in the garden of the Consul General's home in Istanbul, according to Sky News sources.
"The discussions between Jamal Khashoggi and those he met at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul … devolved into a fistfight, leading to his death," the public prosecutor said.
Eighteen nationals have reportedly been arrested in connection with the suspected murder and two of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's top aides — intelligence official Ahmad al-Assiri and royal court media adviser Saud al-Qahtani — have been sacked.
Turkish reports say Khashoggi, who had written columns critical of the Saudi government for The Washington Post over the past year while he lived in self-imposed exile in the US, was killed and dismembered inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Mr Khashoggi has not been seen since he entered the consulate on October 2. It's believed members of an assassination squad with ties to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are responsible for his death.
In Istanbul, a leaked surveillance photo showed a man who has been a member of the crown prince's entourage during trips abroad walking into the Saudi Consulate just before Khashoggi vanished there — timing that drew the kingdom's heir-apparent closer to the columnist's apparent demise.
Turkish officials say Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb flew into Istanbul on a private jet along with an "autopsy expert" October 2 and left that night.
A Turkish newspaper has also reported that the contents of the writer's Apple Watch recorded his final brutal moments.
According to The Sabah newspaper, authorities recovered the audio from Khashoggi's iPhone and his iCloud account, which were synched to his watch.
It's believed he gave his phone to his fiancee, Hatice Cengiz before entering the consulate to arrange paperwork for his marriage.
The tape, if it's authentic, supposedly reveals Khashoggi had his fingers cut off. According to local media, his panicked dying screams could be heard before he was "injected with an unknown drug" and went off the grid.
In his final opinion piece for The Washington Post entitled "What the Arab world needs most is free expression", Khashoggi called for a free press throughout the Arab world and singled out the Saudi kingdom for imprisoning writer Saleh al-Shehi.
"These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community," he wrote about the crackdown on journalists.
"Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence."