Human Rights Watch has urged Saudi Arabia to investigate reports of abuse and death during its so-called anti-corruption purge, which saw hundreds of high-profile royals and businessmen detained, warning Western investors against buying into Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s charm offensive.
Earlier this week, New York Times raised the alarm about reported physical mistreatment of some Saudi princes, businessmen, and former and current government officials held at the five-star Ritz Carlton Hotel in capital Riyadh.
At least one detainee had died and 17 others, including Prince Miteb, son of the late King Abdullah and the longtime head of the country’s National Guard, were hospitalized as a result of brutal interrogations by Saudi agents, according to the Times.
The report named Major General Ali al-Qahtani, an aide to Prince Turki, as the man who later died in detention. Eyewitnesses said Qahtani’s body had a twisted neck and showed signs burn caused by electric shock.
“The alleged mistreatment at the Ritz Carlton is a serious blow Mohammad bin Salman’s claims to be a modernizing reformist,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “While MBS jaunts across Western capitals to gin up foreign investments, investors should think twice the Saudis’ cavalier dismissal of the rule of law and fundamental rights.”
Saudi officials began mass arrests on alleged corruption charges on November 4, 2017. Since then, many of the detainees have been forced to trade financial and business assets for their freedom.
Salman has personally led the so-called anti-corruption committee which authorizes the detentions.
On January 30, nearly three months into the purge, Saudi attorney general said Riyadh had “subpoenaed” 381 people in the investigations and that it had seized over 400 billion Saudi Riyals ($106 billion) worth of assets, including “real estate, commercial entities, securities, cash and other assets.”
The Saudi regime said back then that it was keeping 56 people in custody “to continue the investigations process.”
Bakr bin Laden, chairman of the Saudi Binladin Group, and Prince Turki bin Abdullah, former Riyadh governor and son of the late King Abdullah, where among those still in detention, according to the Times.
In November, the Middle East Eye reported that Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah, another son King Abdullah, had been detained after he complained privately about Qahtani’s treatment.
The HRW said it had obtained many allegations of mistreatment in Saudi prisons, where some inmates were coerced via torture to make confessions and received heavy sentences, including death penalty, despite attempts to recant them.
The activist group said Saudi Arabia, as a party to the United Nations Convention against Torture, must take “effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture.”
“It is great that the Saudi government wants to combat corruption, but its alleged tactics look more like extortion, and make a mockery of the rule of law,” Whitson said, “As the new government tries to sell its reformist credentials to the public, governments, and investors, they should take a hard, skeptical look at what actually happened in the Riyadh Ritz Carlton and its implications.”
Detention of protesters
Reports of torture and mistreatment have been particularly ripe about people who oppose the Saudi regime’s policies.
Riyadh has long been on a hunt to locate and detain Saudi online activists who question the country’s approach to domestic and foreign issues.
It was reported Wednesday that Saudi officials had taken into custody a twitter user going by @coluche_ar handle.
With more than 200,000 followers on the social networking platform, the activist was reportedly arrested upon an order by Salman on charges of obtaining some of the Saudi royal family’s secrets.
In one of his latest tweets, the unnamed activist had criticized the Saudi legal system and the way it prevented suspects from exercising their rights.
The Riyadh regime has also launched a deadly crackdown on protests in the country’s besieged Shia town of Awamiyah.