Saudi Arabia human rights abuses detailed in US State Dept. report

One major area of concern for the State Department is the “arbitrary” detention and disappearances of Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman and his father.

 Participants take photos next to a picture of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (photo credit: FAISAL AL NASSER/ REUTERS)
Participants take photos next to a picture of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
The US State Department released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, and within it raised concerns over numerous areas in which it believes Saudi Arabia is guilty of abusing human rights within its sovereign borders.
Aside from restrictions on freedom of speech, press, access of information and gender equality, the US has been more focused on the political crackdown that has been under way within the royal family since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – commonly referred to as MBS – came into prominence in 2017.
The report detailed the instance in which Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman and his father were arbitrarily detained, along with 11 other princes, after they allegedly staged a sit-in at a royal palace in Riyadh “to demand the state continue to pay their electricity and water bills,” the report said.
According to AFP, Prince Salman and his father have never been interrogated, charged or put on trial over the course of their detainment that began more than two-and-a-half years ago.
Without saying so outright, or mentioning the political implications, the State Department pointed to instances where MBS allegedly seized power through internal politics within the royal family, and the sudden disappearances of many of his competitors who could have challenged him for the throne.
Another major area of concern for the State Department is the “arbitrary” detention and disappearances of Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz and other prominent members of the Saudi royal family in March 2020.
“In early March, authorities reportedly detained four senior princes: Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, King Salman’s full brother; his son, Prince Nayef bin Ahmed, a former head of army intelligence; Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, former crown prince and interior minister; and his younger brother, Prince Nawaf bin Nayef,” the report said.
The report noted that the detentions were not announced publicly by the government.
A regional source said at the time that MBS “accused them of conducting contacts with foreign powers, including the Americans and others, to carry out a coup d’état.”
“With these arrests, MBS consolidated his full grip on power. It’s over with, this purge,” the source added, indicating that no rivals remain to challenge his succession to the throne.
Within the same span of time, Saudi forces also detained dozens of “Interior Ministry officials, senior army officers and others suspected of supporting the alleged coup attempt,” according to the report.
While Nayef, who was a senior Interior Ministry official, has been released, there has been no word on the whereabouts of the other three princes mentioned in the March sit-ins as of the writing of the report.
And considering the accused are princes, their cases “have to be treated with dignity,” Saudi sources have earlier said. This could hold the meaning behind, or a cover-up for, their whereabouts being kept secret and trial proceedings kept under wraps – as was the aim of the statement.
MBS, King Salman’s son and de facto ruler of the country, which is the world’s top oil exporter and a key US ally, has made major moves to consolidate power since ousting Mohammed bin Nayef as heir to the throne in the 2017 palace coup.
Later that year, he arrested several royals and other prominent Saudis, holding them for months at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel in an anti-corruption campaign that caused shock waves at home and abroad.
MBS has also fueled resentment among some prominent branches of the ruling family by tightening his grip on power. Some critics have questioned his ability to lead after the 2018 murder of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents and the largest-ever attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, sources have said. He also faced international criticism over the Yemen war and the detention of women’s rights activists seen as part of a crackdown on dissent.
Critics have said that royals, seeking to change the line of succession, view Prince Ahmed, King Salman’s only surviving full brother, as a possible choice who would have support of family members, the security apparatus, and some Western powers. Prince Ahmed’s whereabouts, as aforementioned, are unknown.
Prince Ahmed was one of only three people on the Allegiance Council, made up of the family’s senior members, who opposed MBS becoming crown prince in 2017, sources have earlier said.
Saudi watchers have said there is no evidence Prince Ahmed is willing to take the throne.
Saudi authorities have not commented on issues of succession or criticism of the crown prince’s leadership. MBS is popular among Saudi youth and has staunch supporters within the royal family, which numbers around 10,000 members.
The crown prince has been lauded for easing social restrictions in the conservative Muslim kingdom and trying to diversify the economy away from oil.
Reuters contributed to this report.