Campaigners to file UN complaint over Saudi prince's detention

Prince Salman was held for around a year in the Al-Hai'r prison near Riyadh and later in a guarded villa in the capital.
Prince Salman was held for around a year in the Al-Hai'r prison near Riyadh and later in a guarded villa in the capital.PHOTO: AFP/A FRIEND OF SAUDI PRINCE SALMAN ADBULAZIZ

RIYADH (AFP) - Two rights groups are lodging a complaint to the United Nations over the "arbitrary" detention of a philanthropist Saudi prince, according to a document seen by AFP, adding to international pressure for his release.

In January 2018, Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, now 37, was swept up along with his father in a royal crackdown, leaving his supporters asking why the minor royal who posed no apparent challenge to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was targeted.

The complaint by the Geneva-based Mena Rights Group and the London-based ALQST follows this month's bombshell US lawsuit by a former senior Saudi intelligence official, Saad Aljabri, who alleges Prince Mohammed tried to have him killed.

The developments have spotlighted royal power plays in the oil-rich kingdom.

Prince Salman, educated at Paris's Sorbonne University, was held for around a year in the high-security Al-Hai'r prison near Riyadh and later in a guarded villa in the capital, sources close to him said.

The prince was moved to a secret detention site in March but was mysteriously returned to the villa two months later, the sources said, after a US$2 million (S$2.74 million) US lobbying effort and petitions from European lawmakers calling for his release.

Seeking to further amplify the pressure, ALQST and Mena Rights Group will file a joint complaint on Tuesday (Aug 25) with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in Geneva over his incarceration.

"Prince Salman and his father have been held for over 2.5 years without any charges," Ms Ines Osman, director of Mena Rights Group, told AFP. "Their detention has no legal basis."

Saudi authorities did not respond to AFP's request for comment.

'DIRTY POLITICS'

After hearing the complaint, a draft of which was seen by AFP, the UN working group is expected to declare an "opinion" on the case in the coming months.

 
 
 

The Saudi government is not legally obligated to respond.

But the case seeks to cast a fresh international spotlight on the plight of the prince - one of many royal family members incarcerated since the meteoric rise of Prince Mohammed.

Most perplexing, the sources say, is that the prince and his father have never once been interrogated since their detention.

"This adds to the arbitrariness of their detention," Ms Osman said.

Prince Salman was among 11 princes detained after they staged what Saudi Arabia's attorney-general called a sit-in at a royal palace in Riyadh to demand the state continue to pay their electricity and water bills.

The princes "refused to leave" and were locked up in Al-Hai'r prison for "disrupting peace and order", the attorney-general said at the time.

But an associate of Prince Salman disputed the account, deriding it as "dirty politics".

The wealthy prince who offered his staff generous allowances would not care about minor utility expenses, the associate told AFP.

ALQST, founded by activist and former Royal Saudi Air Force officer Yahya Assiri, said the prince was "badly beaten" after being summoned to a royal gathering.

"Some of those present were accused of taking part in meetings and pacts aiming to depose... (the) crown prince, and sharing these ideas with people abroad hoping they would help them," ALQST said.

The current whereabouts of the other 10 princes remains unclear.

PUSH FOR JUSTICE

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Prince Salman's father, was detained the next day in an official raid on his home after he "phoned some people in Europe", including a Paris-based lawyer, to help his son, ALQST said.

Surveillance cameras in the home were broken and a number of devices seized as the prince was accused of "communication with foreign entities", the activist group added.

Observers say what may have irked the royal court was Prince Salman's meeting with Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff just before the US elections in 2016.

Mr Schiff is a critic of US President Donald Trump, himself a staunch backer of Prince Mohammed.

Associates of Prince Salman, who is known for his philanthropic activities, say "nothing political" was discussed at the meeting.

In May, leading Washington lobbyist Robert Stryk's Sonoran Policy Group signed a US$2 million contract to press US and European governments about the prince's case.

Several European lawmakers have petitioned Riyadh, and one implored the crown prince to release Prince Salman in a personal letter, seen by AFP.

The EU has also raised the issue with the Saudi foreign ministry and the kingdom's Human Rights Commission on "several occasions" without any success, according to internal correspondence dated late March.