A $2m US lobbying effort and petitions from European legislators are piling pressure on Saudi Arabia to release a philanthropist prince jailed for two years without charges amid an intensifying royal crackdown.
The detention of Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud and his father since January 2018 is seen as part of a clampdown under de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that has swept up potential political rivals, individuals accused of corruption and, at times, figures posing no visible challenge to his hold on power.
In March, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, King Salman’s brother, and the monarch’s nephew Prince Mohammed bin Nayef were detained. Nayef was ousted as Crown Prince two years ago.
The clampdowns have also swept up family members of Saad Aljabri, former aide to bin Nayef, who fled to Canada.
Prince Salman is seen by many as an unlikely target; the multilingual 37-year-old, who was educated at France’s Sorbonne University, apparently espoused no political ambitions and earned the reputation of being a “walking blank check” for funding development projects in poor countries.
“This is not just an unlawful arrest,” an associate of the prince told AFP. “This is daylight kidnapping. This is a forced disappearance.”
After being detained for approximately one year in the high-security Al-Ha’ir prison near Riyadh and later in a private villa with his father Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the prince was moved to a secret detention site in March, multiple sources told AFP.
He was mysteriously returned to the villa last week to be reunited with his father, three of those sources said.
It remains unclear why he was moved to the secret site. His telephone calls to his family are monitored by Saudi intelligence, the sources said.
But his return may be a tentative sign that international pressure for his release is working. Saudi authorities did not respond to a request for comment on the case.