Saudi Ara­bia’s Search, Kid­nap and Dis­ap­pear Pro­gram for Dis­si­dents

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A pat­tern is now emerg­ing as to what hap­pens to Saudis trav­el­ing over­seas who speak out against their coun­try. The monar­chy ap­par­ently seeks them out, kid­naps them and then per­ma­nently elim­i­nates them as po­ten­tial dis­senters.

One of the more sig­nif­i­cant of these was Prince Sul­tan bin Turki. He was the son of another Saudi royal, Prince Turki, who was forced to move to Cairo in ex­ile after hav­ing his own ar­gu­ments with the royal fam­ily. Prince Sul­tan was also a nephew of King Fahd.

Prince Sul­tan had pre­vi­ously moved to Switzer­land and had be­gun speak­ing out pub­licly against cor­rup­tion in­volv­ing high of­fi­cials and Saudi princes. There, in May 2003, he had set up the Royal Saudi Po­lit­i­cal Or­gan­i­sa­tion, a group fo­cused on ex­pos­ing that cor­rup­tion and seek­ing jus­tice for all con­cerned. It has also been noted as a fo­cal point for de­mand­ing ma­jor re­forms within the Saudi gov­ern­ment.

While there, Prince Sul­tan was al­legedly ab­ducted from his home in Switzer­land and forcibly taken back to his orig­i­nal home­land.

After be­ing pulled back to Saudi Ara­bia, he told the Associated Press in a phone call back in 2004 that he had been lured into a meet­ing at King Fahd’s Geneva palace, where two other princes were present. As the re­porter noted, Prince Sul­tan had said, in re­call­ing the in­ci­dent, “After five min­utes, five masked, heavy-built men crashed through the door, re­strained me, gagged me and warned me against mak­ing any noise.” He went on to say, “Those prof­it­ing from cor­rup­tion in the Saudi gov­ern­ment felt that my ac­tiv­i­ties were a threat to them, and they agreed to elim­i­nate or abduct me.”

He was also drugged as part of the as­sault.

Prince Sul­tan even­tu­ally emerged in Riyadh, where newly dis­cov­ered med­i­cal records from King Faisal hos­pi­tal there show that the prince had been as­pi­rated and in­tu­bated in Geneva be­fore be­ing mede­vac’d out to Saudi Ara­bia. Oth­ers who were with him at the time of the as­sault were also kid­napped and taken along on the same flight to Riyadh. Their pass­ports were seized. Their phones and other elec­tronic de­vices were first seized and then re­turned soon after with all pho­tos of their al­leged kid­nap­ping and the Prince’s kid­nap­ping deleted.

While in Geneva, the Saudi am­bas­sador re­port­edly ar­rived at the Prince’s Ho­tel In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal suite. He warned those from the Prince’s en­tourage to get out and scat­ter as they might be hunted down now that the Prince was back in Saudi Ara­bia.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports, after Prince Sul­tan’s hos­pi­tal

stay, he was trans­ferred to his house un­der heavy se­cu­rity and pre­vented from ei­ther re­ceiv­ing guests or com­mu­ni­cat­ing.

A sep­a­rate re­port on the web­site of the Lon­don-based Move­ment for Is­lamic Re­form in Ara­bia backed up Prince Sul­tan’s story. It claims the kid­nap­ping was or­ches­trated in part by none other than Crown Prince Ab­dul­lah and that it in­volved the use of Saudi planes that the Swiss gov­ern­ment had pro­vided with spe­cial ac­cess.

The Saudi gov­ern­ment de­nied what Prince Sul­tan claimed had hap­pened. Far from learn­ing any les­son – at least from the Saudi gov­ern­ment’s side of this – the Prince re­sponded by tak­ing his al­leged ab­duc­tors to court in a highly pub­lic le­gal case, chal­leng­ing the of­fi­cial story of the case from the Saudi gov­ern­ment and seek­ing jus­tice for what he re­ferred to as a brazen kid­nap­ping.

Even­tu­ally, after re­ceiv­ing per­mis­sion to leave on a flight to Cairo to visit his fa­ther, Prince Turki, on Fe­bru­ary 1, 2016, Prince Sul­tan was ap­par­ently “caught” for the last time and has not been heard from since. That he sus­pected bad things might hap­pen to him some­time soon was not in doubt, as he had joked to a re­porter on that Cairo trip, “If you don’t find me, they have taken me to Riyadh.”

A sec­ond Saudi royal who is now miss­ing is Prince Turki bin Ban­dar, a former ma­jor in the Saudi po­lice force. His prob­lems be­gan with a pub­lic dis­agree­ment with the Saudi royal fam­ily, an ar­gu­ment over a dis­puted in­her­i­tance that re­port­edly ended up with Prince Ban­dar be­ing ar­rested and im­pris­oned.

He later moved to France, where he set up shop crit­i­ciz­ing the Saudi gov­ern­ment pub­licly and send­ing out nu­mer­ous mes­sages and videos about his po­si­tion on so­cial me­dia. Like Prince Sul­tan, Prince Ban­dar had been con­cerned about re­ports that the Saudi gov­ern­ment planned to kid­nap and/or as­sas­si­nate him. He had even pro­vided a note to a friend say­ing just that. Then, in late 2015, he em­i­grated to Morocco, think­ing it might be a safe place of refuge. He was wrong. Ac­cord­ing to the Moroc­can news­pa­per Al Sabah, after Prince Ban­dar had made plans to de­part Morocco to re­turn to a home in France, he was first ar­rested and held at Morocco’s Sala prison. Then he was al­legedly de­ported to Saudi Ara­bia at the re­quest of the gov­ern­ment.

A third prince, Saud bin Saif al-nasr, was yet another dis­si­dent who openly spoke out against the gov­ern­ment. He had stirred up a hor­nets’ nest of anger from the Saudi gov­ern­ment after a year-long cam­paign de­mand­ing the pros­e­cu­tion of se­nior Saudi of­fi­cials for back­ing the over­throw of former Egyp­tian pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Morsi. In Septem­ber 2015, he even went so far as to call for a vi­o­lent over­throw of the Saudi monar­chy. After let­ters of his were pub­lished stat­ing this – and after he en­dorsed them as ac­cu­rate – he also dis­ap­peared.

A fourth in­di­vid­ual, Prince Khalid bin Farhan, was yet another Saudi ex­ile who spoke out pub­licly to ad­vo­cate for po­lit­i­cal re­forms at home. He also feared he would be taken by Saudi au­thor­i­ties and forcibly re­turned to his orig­i­nal home coun­try. His ab­duc­tion ap­par­ently hap­pened when he met with a Rus­sian-ital­ian busi­ness con­sor­tium for a pos­si­ble busi­ness trans­ac­tion. He ended up be­ing con­vinced the deal was real and ended up get­ting on a plane to Italy think­ing he was go­ing there to sign off on the fi­nal con­tract. Ac­cord­ing to Prince Farhan, he was in­stead kid­napped and taken back to Riyadh.

Prince Farhan even­tu­ally sur­faced again, ap­par­ently free, but then, after he filed a crim­i­nal case against his ab­duc­tors in Swiss courts, the Saudis had ap­par­ently had enough. In 2016, he was some­how con­vinced to take a Saudi gov­ern­ment plane from Paris to Cairo to visit his ail­ing fa­ther. He and his en­tire 18-mem­ber en­tourage ended up fly­ing to Riyadh in­stead. The prince was dragged from the plane, scream­ing, in the hands of heav­ily armed guards. He has also never been heard from or seen since.

Based on the ev­i­dence gath­ered to date, there are likely many other Saudi op­po­si­tion lead­ers who have been treated to even more harsh treat­ment “be­hind the scenes” by the Saudi gov­ern­ment. With in­for­ma­tion be­gin­ning to leak more of­ten about what hap­pened to these dis­si­dents – as well as about the cor­rupt and crim­i­nal lead­er­ship at the top of the Saudi gov­ern­ment – per­haps there will, at some point, be enough truth emerg­ing for de­mands for jus­tice to turn into ac­tions.

Un­til that time, this will be the pat­tern for Saudi dis­si­dents: The long arm of the royal fam­ily will reach out and grab those who dis­agree with them, no mat­ter where they are. If they con­tinue their op­po­si­tion speech, they, too, will even­tu­ally all dis­ap­pear.

Photo by Nick Ne­w­house, CC

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