Detained Saudi Princess Re-Emerges for Brief Phone Call from Prison
- May, 30, 2021 - 09:21
- World news
TEHRAN (Tasnim) – A Saudi princess who was arrested in March 2019 made contact with her family for the first time in a year, with a brief phone call to a relative in recent days.
Princess Basmah bint Saud bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud has been kept in the maximum-security Al-Ha’ir prison near the capital Riyadh since her arrest – the same facility where women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was held until recently. One of Basmah’s daughters, Souhoud bint Shuja Al-Sharif, is being held with her in the same facility.
On May 13, Basmah was allowed to make a brief phone call to a relative in Saudi Arabia, although the conversation was ended abruptly after just a couple of minutes, according to several knowledgeable sources. According to one source, she was discussing arrangements for her will "in case anything happened to her", when the call was cut off.
The Saudi authorities told the United Nations last year that Basmah was accused of the criminal offence of trying to travel outside the kingdom illegally. Her daughter is accused of assaulting an agent and of an unspecified cybercrime. At the time, no formal charges had been brought against either woman and it is not clear if that has changed. The Saudi embassy in London did not respond to questions for this article.
Basmah’s legal representative Henri Estramant said his client had not been allowed regular contact with her family or been provided with any legal advice since being detained.
Basmah’s supporters have been lobbying the US government to take an interest in her case and are hopeful the US State Department might choose to get involved. Her situation has also drawn attention in Europe and was raised, along with other similar cases, by a European Parliament delegation to Saudi Arabia in early 2020.
Eva Kaili, a Greek member of the European Parliament who was part of the delegation, said a Saudi government minister gave them reason to believe she might be released before long. “They told us we would be positively surprised,” she said. “It’s been a year since they said that and we have not been.”
Basmah’s last public messages were in April 2020, when a series of tweets were issued from her account pleading to be released. Her recent brief phone call comes amid reports of a fresh crackdown of activists in the kingdom this year.
Other members of the royal family have also been targeted by the Saudi authorities, with high-profile Prince Sultan bin Salman recently placed under a travel ban, according to reports.
Prince Sultan found fame in 1985 when he travelled on the Space Shuttle Discovery, becoming the first Arab in space; he is a half-brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and a son of the ruler King Salman.
Former Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef (MBN) and Prince Ahmed Bin Abdulaziz are also being detained. They were arrested in March 2020 and have been held in unknown locations since then, but have yet to be charged with anything.
There is continued speculation about the reasons for Basmah’s detention, beyond what the Saudi authorities have claimed, not least because she has a reputation as an outspoken advocate of reforms in Saudi Arabia.
Some have suggested her arrest – made as she was trying to travel to Switzerland for medical treatment – is linked to her friendship with MBN. Others have suggested powerful figures in Saudi Arabia are trying to force her to relinquish her inheritance from her father, the late King Saud (who ruled from 1953-64).
Basmah is believed to be suffering from a number of health issues but friends of the family say she has not been receiving regular medical care since she was arrested.