RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA – A Saudi prince detained in a guarded villa in Riyadh without any formal charges has been moved to an “undisclosed location,” an EU lawmaker said in a letter seen by AFP on Wednesday.
The move marks an escalation in the nearly three-year detention of Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, underscoring the kingdom’s challenge against international pressure for his release even as the new administration of US President-elect Joe Biden may step up scrutiny of his human rights record.
In January 2018, Prince Salman, now 37, was dragged along with his father in a widespread crackdown, leaving his supporters wondering why the royal miner who posed no apparent challenge to powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was being targeted.
Prince Salman, trained at the Sorbonne University in Paris, and his father were held in solitary confinement for about a year in Al-Hai’r high security prison near Riyadh and later in a guarded villa of the capital, two sources close to him told me.
The prince was moved to a secret place of detention in March, but was mysteriously returned two months later to the villa, which is under close surveillance, the sources said, after a $ 2 million US lobbying effort and petitions from European lawmakers calling for his release.
Last Saturday the prince and his father were evicted from the villa and “taken to an unknown location,” lawmaker Marc Tarabella said in a letter to the Saudi ambassador to the European Union.
“It is clear that their current deprivation of liberty is arbitrary and amounts to a violation of Saudi Arabia’s national and international obligations,” the letter dated Tuesday said.
“I urge you to ask the Saudi government to immediately provide the whereabouts” of Prince Salman and his father Abdulaziz bin Salman, he added.
The letter from Tarabella, vice-chairman of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the Arabian Peninsula, was also sent to Saudi embassies in France and Belgium, a parliamentary source told AFP.
Saudi authorities have so far not commented publicly on the case and have not responded to AFP’s request for comment on the alleged transfer.
One of the sources close to the detained prince and his father also said they had been moved to a secret location.
“Nobody knows where they moved them,” this source told AFP. The two men were allowed to make regular phone calls to their families, but there has been no communication since Saturday. “They are missing,” the source added.
Prince Salman is one of many members of the royal family imprisoned since the meteoric rise of Prince Mohammed, the de facto ruler of the kingdom who launched a sweeping crackdown on dissidents, critics and political rivals.
In August, two rights groups – the Geneva-based MENA Rights Group and the London-based ALQST – lodged a complaint with the UN over their detention, according to a document seen by AFP.
The prince and his father have never been questioned once since their detention, adding to the arbitrariness of their detention, rights groups and sources close to them told AFP.
Observers say what may have angered the royal court was Prince Salman’s meeting with Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff just before the 2016 US election.
Schiff is a critic of US President Donald Trump, a staunch supporter of Prince Mohammed.
During his election campaign, Biden vowed to make the kingdom an “outcast.”
But Saudi Arabia, which hosted the G20 summit last month with barely any public mention of human rights from leaders of the world’s richest countries, seems unwilling to give in to the pressure. international.