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HRW: Saudi prince held incommunicado after enforced disappearance

Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Saudi authorities detained Prince Faisal bin Abdullah Al Saud more than a month ago and have since kept him incommunicado.

The New York-based organization quoted a source with ties to the family of Prince Faisal as saying on Saturday that the authorities may have forcibly “disappeared” the son of the late King Abdullah, who formerly served as the president of the Saudi Red Crescent Society, in late March.

“Despite waves of criticism, the lawless behavior of Saudi authorities during the de facto rule of [Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman continues unabated,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW. “Now we have to add Prince Faisal to the hundreds detained in Saudi Arabia without a clear legal basis.”

Prince Faisal was previously arrested in November 2017 and held along with over 300 leading business people, royal family members, and current and former officials at Ritz-Carlton Hotel in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

They were pressured to turn over large sums of their wealth as part of an alleged “anti-corruption campaign,” which observers said was meant to consolidate bin Salman’s grip on power and silence his critics. 

Prince Faisal was released on December 29, 2017 after he agreed to hand over assets, the source said, adding that since then, the prince had been put under an arbitrary travel ban.

On March 27, 2020, security forces arrived at Prince Faisal’s family compound northeast of Riyadh, where he was self-isolating due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and detained him without revealing the reasons, according to the source.

Faisal’s family members, he noted, have not been able to learn anything about his location or status, which may qualify as an enforced disappearance.

He further stressed that the detained Saudi prince has not publicly criticized authorities since his December 2017 arrest and that his family members are concerned about his health as he has a heart condition.

“Saudi Arabia’s recent justice reforms have evidently not curbed rampant arbitrary detentions, including of prominent royal family members,” Page said. “The arrest and possible disappearance of Prince Faisal demonstrates again Saudi authorities’ blatant disrespect for the rule of law and the need for a full overhaul of the justice system.”

In April, Saudi Princess Basmah bint Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, an outspoken human rights advocate, took to Twitter to say that she is being detained without charge at Riyadh’s high-security al-Ha’ir prison, with one of her daughters.

She pleaded for freedom and said that her health status was “very critical”.

In early March, reports emerged that bin Salman had detained Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, King Salman’s full brother, along with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a former crown prince and interior minister in a new purge of royal family members over an alleged coup attempt.

The arrest campaign in Saudi Arabia is widely viewed as an effort by the crown prince to lock down potential challengers to his own succession before his father dies or abdicates the throne.

Bin Salman is said to be the chief culprit behind the brutal killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi by a Saudi hit team inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2, 2018.