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Saudi Arabia reveals whereabouts of two detained royal family members

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman and his son Prince Ghazalan, both arrested in 2018 amid a widespread purge, had been held incommunicado for nearly a year
An undated picture made available on 30 May 2020, by a friend of Saudi Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz - also known as Ghazalan - shows him signing the visitors' book in the German city of Dresden (AFP)

Authorities in Saudi Arabia have confirmed the whereabouts of two members of the royal family, detained without charges for nearly four years and held incommunicado since November 2020, a rights group reported on Monday.

According to Democracy for the Arab World Now (Dawn), a DC-based rights group founded by murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi authorities have stated that Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Mohammad al-Saud and his 39-year-old son Prince Salman - also known as Ghazalan - were being detained in a private residence in the capital Riyadh.

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The two men were first detained in January 2018, amid an unprecedented purge started in 2017 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has sought to arrest critics and perceived competitors in Saudi Arabia, including many of his royal cousins.

Abdulaziz bin Salman and Ghazalan were allowed to receive visits and phone calls from relatives in October, nearly a year after they were transferred to an unknown location in November 2020, Dawn added.

"Saudi Arabia's belated admission that it is in fact detaining these two princes, albeit without charge, and allowing them to have their first family visit in almost a year after disappearing them, are welcome glimmers of hope, but no substitute for what justice demands: their immediate release," Dawn’s executive director Sarah Leah Whitson said in a statement. 

Middle East Eye revealed at the height of the 2017-18 purge that some of those detained were beaten and tortured so badly during their arrest or subsequent interrogations that they required hospital treatment.

Dawn reported that Ghazalan was beaten during his arrest until he fell unconscious, before being transferred to Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton hotel, widely dubbed at the time as a five-star prison for victims of the crown prince’s crackdown.

Most detainees have since been released after opaque financial "settlements" with the government. 

Bin Salman justified his 2017 purge as an anti-corruption move to rid Saudi Arabia of endemic graft. The purge enabled him to consolidate power, retrieve billions in assets and respond to public complaints about widespread government corruption and abuse of power.

But the crackdown also rattled private investors, just as the kingdom sought to lure capital to help diversify the economy.