Skip to main content

Saudi Arabia: Rights group claims children of crown prince enemy imprisoned as 'leverage'

Children of Saad al-Jabri, a former top Saudi intelligence official now exiled in Canada, being punished to coerce him to return, says Human Rights Watch
Saad al-Jabri sued Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (above) in the US Federal Court, alleging that the crown prince had sent a hit squad to murder him in Canada in 2018 (AFP)

Saudi authorities should immediately release the imprisoned children of a former Saudi official following an unfair trial that took place in an apparent effort to coerce him to return to Saudi Arabia, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Sunday.

Omar al-Jabri, 23, and Sarah al-Jabri, 21, the children of Saad al-Jabri, a former top Saudi intelligence official, were arrested in March 2020 and held incommunicado until January 2021.

Saudi authorities brought charges against the siblings in September 2020, a month after their father sued Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the US Federal Court under the Torture Victim Protection Act, alleging that the crown prince had sent a hit squad to murder him in Canada in 2018.

'The treatment of Omar and Sarah al-Jabri demonstrates the lengths to which Saudi Arabia is willing to go to pressure people who refuse to fall in line'

- Michael Page, Human Rights Watch

Following their arrests and during their trial, Saudi authorities held the siblings incommunicado, preventing them from meeting their lawyer or speaking with family members. The authorities have also detained up to 40 other Jabri family members and associates, who remain in detention, informed sources said.

“The treatment of Omar and Sarah al-Jabri demonstrates the lengths to which Saudi Arabia is willing to go to pressure people who refuse to fall in line,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at HRW.

“Detaining, imposing arbitrary travel bans, and railroading at trial two young people solely to create leverage against their father is collective punishment that demands accountability and justice.”

A Saudi court in November 2020 sentenced Omar and Sarah al-Jabri to nine years and six-and-a-half years in prison respectively, for “money laundering” and “attempting to escape” Saudi Arabia.

Secret hearing

In December 2020, an appeals court upheld their sentences in a secret hearing at which they were not present, according to HRW. Neither they nor their lawyer or other family members have been formally presented with the final court verdict detailing the reasons behind the initial judgment or the appeal decision.

HRW has reviewed a series of court documents, text messages and other items related to Saudi authorities’ targeting of Jabri and his children and interviewed another family member by phone in June, according to the rights group.

The family member said that the siblings had been targeted by Saudi authorities since 2017, when Sarah was 17 and Omar was 18, to coerce their father to return to Saudi Arabia from exile. Saad al-Jabri had formerly been an intelligence official in the Saudi Interior Ministry and a top adviser to Mohammed bin Nayef, who was deposed as deputy crown prince in June 2017 amid bin Salman’s takeover of the Saudi security apparatus.

Exiled spy chief says MBS believes he's the CIA's source on Khashoggi murder
Read More »

On 21 June 2017, shortly after bin Nayef was deposed, Riyadh airport officers stopped Sarah al-Jabri from traveling to the United States, stating that the siblings were prohibited from travel for “security reasons”. They had been about to travel to the US to continue their schooling. They were never formally notified of the reasons behind the travel ban.

In late 2017, Saudi authorities froze their bank accounts and interrogated them separately about their father’s whereabouts and activities. The family member said that during the interrogation the authorities attempted to convince the siblings that their father and other family members living abroad should return to Saudi Arabia, according to HRW.

Following a trial of four hearings over a few weeks, the court convicted the siblings based solely on their alleged confessions.

In early 2020, the Saudi authorities announced reforms curbing some of the worst outcomes for child offenders and promised to develop a written penal code. However, according to HRW, these changes did not go far enough to comply fully with the standards of international law.

“The treatment of the Al-Jabri siblings puts Saudi’s criminal justice reform announcements to shame,” HRW's Michael Page said. “There remains a long way to go before the Saudi justice system can credibly carry its own name.”