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Sarah al-Jabri and Omar al-Jabri © Private

(Beirut) – Saudi authorities have held two adult children of a former official in incommunicado detention since security forces arrested them in March 2020, Human Rights Watch said today. Omar al-Jabri, 21, and Sarah al-Jabri, 20, are children of former intelligence official Saad al-Jabri, who has lived in exile in Canada since 2017. Security forces also detained al-Jabri’s brother in May, Human Rights Watch said. 

An informed source told Human Rights Watch that the family believes the detentions are meant to coerce the father to return to Saudi Arabia. Al-Jabri was an advisor to deposed former crown prince Mohammed bin Nayef and served as the primary Saudi liaison to Western intelligence agencies. His children were arrested 10 days after the detention of Mohammed bin Nayef and another senior prince, Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, a brother of King Salman and an uncle of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi authorities should immediately inform relatives of Sarah and Omar’s whereabouts and well-being, release them, and end their travel bans, Human Rights Watch said.

“Saudi authorities are sinking to new lows in going after the families of former officials out of favor with the current leadership,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “How can anyone describe the Saudi leadership as reformist while it’s arbitrarily detaining the children of former officials?”

The informed source told Human Rights Watch that Saad al-Jabri left Saudi Arabia in 2017, before Mohammed bin Nayef was removed and replaced as crown prince by Mohammed bin Salman on June 21, 2017. At the time of Mohammed bin Nayef’s dismissal, only two of al-Jabri’s children – Omar and Sarah, then aged 18 and 17 – remained in Saudi Arabia. Both tried to flee the country that day, but officials stopped them at the airport and told them they were banned from travel abroad with no explanation.

Between June 2017 and March 2020 Omar and Sarah lived alone; authorities froze their bank accounts and financial assets in late 2017. The informed source said that in mid-2018 both were summoned by the Public Prosecution and interrogated separately. The source said that most of the questions were about their father’s whereabouts and activities.

On March 6, when authorities arrested Mohammed bin Nayef and Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, the children received a summons from the Presidency of State Security. They answered the summons March 9 and security officials told them that their father must return to Saudi Arabia.

On March 16, the source said that a large group of security forces arrested them at home in Riyadh at around 6:00 a.m. The family has not heard news of Sarah and Omar since their detention. The source said authorities have not responded to information requests from the family, which may qualify it as an enforced disappearance.

Security officials returned to the al-Jabri home on March 25 and conducted a 12-hour search, confiscating electronics.

The source said that on May 12, armed security officers raided the home of Saad al-Jabri’s brother, a professor at King Saud University, and detained him without explanation. Authorities also confiscated electronics and documents. The family has received no news about him since his arrest, the source said. He and other relatives have been subjected to arbitrary travel bans since June 2017.

The source said he believes that the push to coerce Saad al-Jabri back to Saudi Arabia is related to the detentions of Mohammed bin Nayef and Ahmed bin Abdulaziz. The Wall Street Journal reported on March 6 that a royal court official accused them of plotting a coup. The informed source told Human Rights Watch it is likely they were detained for complaining privately about the crown prince.

On May 10, the official Twitter account of Saudi Arabia’s General Directorate of Prisons posted a tweet denying the death of Mohammed bin Nayef and stated he was receiving medical care for a heart attack. The tweet was quickly deleted, and the Saudi Press Agency issued an official statement claiming that the Twitter account had been hacked and posted “incorrect information.”

Saudi authorities have targeted other royal family members. On March 27, authorities detained Prince Faisal bin Abdullah Al Saud, a son of the late King Abdullah and former head of the Saudi Red Crescent Society, without explanation and held him incommunicado. On April 15, 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.

“Saudi Arabia’s recent justice reforms have not curbed the authorities’ contempt for the rule of law, showing the country needs a full overhaul of the justice and security sectors,” Page said. 

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