Saudi princess freed after nearly 3 years in jail
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi authorities have released a princess detained in the kingdom under mysterious circumstances for nearly three years, her supporters said on Sunday.
The princess, Basmah bint Saud, a daughter of Saudi Arabia’s second king, disappeared in March 2019 and landed in a notorious Saudi prison without charge, she wrote on social media at the time.
The reason for her arrest along with her daughter was not clear, as she never wielded significant influence. But it marked the latest case against a royal family member as the headstrong Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman consolidated power as the kingdom’s de factor leader.
Following his father King Salman’s ascension to the throne in 2015, he has prosecuted critics, activists and rival royals, and has locked up and shaken down princes in an anti-corruption purge.
The 58-year-old Princess Basmah and her 30-year-old daughter Suhoud al-Sharif left al-Ha’ir Prison on the outskirts of the Saudi capital, Riyadh, last week and returned home to the port city of Jiddah Thursday, said her legal advisor Henri Estramant. Princess Basmah suffers from health problems including osteoporosis and is now focused on recovering and spending time with family, he added.
Saudi Arabia’s Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Saudi government has not commented publicly on the case. But in 2020, the Saudi Mission to the United Nations in Geneva told the working group on arbitrary detentions that Princess Basmah stood “accused of criminal offenses involving attempting to travel outside the Kingdom illegally.” There was no trial, it added.
Estramant said security agents scooped up the princess and her daughter as they were preparing to travel to Switzerland for regular medical care.
Princess Basmah’s health deteriorated significantly during detention, said her London-based advocates at Grant Liberty, which petitioned the U.N. and campaigned for months to secure her release.
“For months we didn’t even know if she was actually alive or not,” said Grant Liberty’s legal officer Rhianna Dorrian, citing the princess’ inability to make direct contact with her family or supporters since last May. “We also know she was denied basic medication.”
Princess Basmah’s advocates hailed her release as a victory while also saying that she remains under surveillance and some details were still unclear.
“It’s a good sign from the royal court that they’re working on improving legal conditions,” said Estramant. “Saudi Arabia is trying to modernize and develop and it’s important not to have people in arbitrary detention.”