(Beirut) – Saudi authorities detained Prince Faisal bin Abdullah Al Saud, a son of the late King Abdullah and former head of the Saudi Red Crescent Society, on March 27, 2020 and have since apparently held him incommunicado. The authorities have refused to reveal his whereabouts or status, a source with ties to the family told Human Rights Watch, which suggests that authorities may have forcibly “disappeared” him.
Prince Faisal’s case is the most recent known arbitrary detention of prominent Saudis, including royal family members, outside any recognizable legal process. The authorities previously detained Prince Faisal in November 2017 and held him along with over 300 leading businesspeople, royal family members, and current and former officials at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. The authorities reportedly pressured them to hand over assets in return for their release, also outside of any clear or recognizable legal process. The source said that the authorities released Prince Faisal in late December 2017 after he agreed to hand over assets and that the basis of his current detention is unclear.
“Despite waves of criticism, the lawless behavior of Saudi authorities during the de facto rule of Mohammed bin Salman continues unabated,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Now we have to add Prince Faisal to the hundreds detained in Saudi Arabia without a clear legal basis.”
The arrests since 2017 have targeted many sectors of Saudi society, including clerics, intellectuals, human rights activists, businessmen, and royal family members, including sons of the late King Abdullah. Others among his sons detained in November 2017 include Prince Mishal bin Abdullah, a former governor of Mecca; Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah, former National Guard minister; and Prince Turki bin Abdullah, a former governor of Riyadh. Prince Turki remains in detention without charge.
The New York Times report reported in March 2018 that 17 people required hospitalization because of ill-treatment by Saudi authorities in the Ritz Carlton in 2017, and that Maj. Gen. Ali al-Qahtani, an aide to Prince Turki, later died in detention.
The source said that the authorities imposed an arbitrary travel ban on Prince Faisal following his release on December 29, 2017. The source said that on March 27, 2020, security forces arrived at a family compound northeast of Riyadh, where Prince Faisal was self-isolating due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and detained him without revealing the reasons. The source said that family members have not been able to learn anything about Prince Faisal’s location or status since then, which may qualify as an enforced disappearance.
An enforced disappearance is defined under international law as the arrest or detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty, or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts.
The source said that Prince Faisal has not publicly criticized authorities since his December 2017 arrest and that family members are concerned about his health as he has a heart condition.
Saudi authorities have targeted other royal family members in recent months. On April 15, 2020, a verified Twitter account owned by Princess Basma bint Saud, 56, a daughter of the late King Saud, issued a series of tweets stating that the princess and her daughter are being held without charge in al-Hair prison, south of Riyadh, and that her health is deteriorating. The tweets disappeared after several hours. On May 5, Agence France-Presse reported that since the tweets were deleted, family members have received no information about her well-being or status.
In early March 2020, authorities detained three senior princes including Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, King Salman’s full brother, along with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a former crown prince and interior minister removed by King Salman and Mohammed bin Salman in June 2017, after which he was placed under long-term house arrest.
“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.”