(Beirut) – Saudi authorities should immediately clarify whether they have imposed movement restrictions on former crown prince Mohammad bin Nayef, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubair. A June 28, 2017 New York Times report quotes former and current US officials saying that following King Salman’s elevation of his son, Mohammad bin Salman, to crown prince on June 21, authorities subjected Mohammad bin Nayef to house arrest and banned him from travel abroad.
During bin Nayef’s tenure as interior minister, the ministry repeatedly bullied and harassed Saudis who expressed views on politics, religion, and society that were at odds with the state-imposed narrative, arbitrarily detained them and subjected them to travel bans.
“Reports that Mohammad Bin Nayef is under a travel ban and home detention without due process are bitterly ironic given his role in imposing similar arbitrary restrictions on thousands of Saudis,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Saudi government needs to call a halt to officials’ arbitrary abuses of power.”
The New York Times report said that following the elevation of Mohammad bin Salman, bin Nayef returned to his palace in Jeddah to find that authorities had replaced his guards with guards loyal to the new crown prince. A former American official cited reports that bin Nayef is confined to his palace. Another official said that he is barred from leaving the country.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry should clarify whether authorities have restricted Prince Mohammad’s freedom of movement inside Saudi Arabia, and whether he is under a travel ban, and if so, clarify the legal basis for the restrictions, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch has documented Saudi Arabia’s rampant use of arbitrary travel bans and detentions of Saudi citizens over the years, including during bin Nayef’s tenure as interior minister.
The Interior Ministry has often broken Saudi law in imposing travel bans, Human Rights Watch found. Aside from a court ruling, the interior minister may impose bans “for defined reasons related to security and for a known period” and must notify those banned within one week of the ban. Human Rights Watch found that many Saudi citizens only learned of their ban at airports, land crossings, and passport departments months or years after they were imposed. In many cases the ministry does not inform those on the travel ban list of the specific reasons for the ban.
In December 2014, for example, authorities banned prominent human rights activist Samar Badawi from travel abroad several months after she went to Geneva to press the UN Human Rights Council to seek the release of her then-husband, Waleed Abu al-Khair, who is serving a 15-year prison sentence for his human rights work. She only discovered the ban when she attempted to board a flight from Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport. The ban remains in effect.
Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) gives “Everyone […] the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights bars states from restricting the right to leave the country, except when the restrictions are prescribed by law, and are “necessary to protect national security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others.”
Human Rights Watch has also documented use of arbitrary detention in Saudi Arabia, most recently in a letter to Mohammad bin Nayef in September 2014. In early 2013, the Interior Ministry created the communication window website, a regularly updated database that purports to document detainees in Saudi prisons and the status of their cases, but without identifying them.
Human Rights Watch analyzed data from the portal as it appeared on May 15, 2014, when it showed 2,766 people in detention. They included 293 detainees apparently held in pretrial detention for more than six months without officials referring their cases to the judiciary. It appeared that 16 of them had been held for more than two years, including one held for more than 10 years. The cases of almost 700 others had been progressing through the court system for unreasonable lengths of time, including 177 who appeared to have been awaiting trial verdicts for more than 10 years.
Article 114 of Saudi Arabia’s Law of Criminal Procedure (LCP) provides that a person may be detained without charge for a maximum of five days, renewable up to a total of six months by the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution. After six months, a detainee must “be directly transferred to the competent court, or be released.”
Yet the data on the website as of May 15, 2014 revealed that 31 people listed had been held while merely “under investigation” for more than six months.
The Arab Charter on Human Rights, which Saudi Arabia ratified in 2009, also guarantees the right of anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge to be brought promptly before a judge or other officer of the law, and to have a trial within a reasonable time or be released. The charter says that “Pre-trial detention shall in no case be the general rule.”
Extended detention without charge or trial or without an appearance before a judge is arbitrary, and violates both Saudi law and international human rights standards.