Relatives of some Saudi detainees eagerly await Biden’s trip

RIYADH, July 13 (Reuters) – Malik al-Dowaish was arrested this month after years of campaigning for the release of his father, who was detained in 2016 after delivering a sermon seen as critical of the royal family of Saudi Arabia, according to two sources. familiar with the question said.

“I really don’t know the secret to my father’s arrest,” Dowaish said, in a video he recorded before his arrest and seen by Reuters. “But it is very strange that he has not been tried so that a court can consider the charges against him.”

Dowaish’s relatives are among hundreds of Saudis who want US President Joe Biden to push for the release of loved ones jailed in a crackdown on dissent during his visit to Washington’s most important Arab ally this week. .

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But some relatives of detained Saudis told Reuters they fear human rights will not be high on his agenda when he meets with Saudi leaders.

In a July 9 Washington Post commentary, Biden said his goal was to reorient, not sever, relations with Saudi Arabia, noting that its energy resources were vital to mitigating the impact of Russia’s invasion of Saudi Arabia. on high oil supplies. However, Biden also wrote that fundamental freedoms are always “on the agenda” when he travels abroad. Read more

The Saudi government did not respond to a request for comment on Dowaish’s case or whether human rights will be discussed with U.S. officials during Biden’s visit.

Saudi officials say the kingdom has no political prisoners. They deny human rights abuses and say they are only fighting extremism, corruption and protecting the kingdom’s national security. They defended the surveillance of activists as necessary to maintain social stability.

The White House National Security Council did not respond to a request for comment on Malik al-Dowaish’s arrest.

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A senior US administration official said Biden, in his bilateral meeting with the Saudis, is certain to “raise issues with human rights and concerns that we have,” but he did not cite no specific case.

Biden had pledged to make the kingdom a “pariah” after Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in Turkey by Saudi agents in 2018. US intelligence has implicated Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as name of MbS, in the murder. The Saudi government has denied any involvement on his part.

Dowaish’s fate is part of a crackdown on dissent that has been led by Prince Mohammed even as he has championed reforms like allowing women to drive and pushing projects to create jobs.

Dowaish’s arrest came after he was questioned twice by security services last year about his request for his father’s release, the two sources familiar with his case said. These sources declined to be identified for fear of reprisals.

Reuters was unable to find a lawyer for the young Dowaish and could not determine where he is being held.

His family lost contact with his father, Suleiman a-Dowaish, in 2016, several right-wing groups said. The father was known for his ties to former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (MbN), who was replaced by MbS in a palace coup in 2017, they previously said, without giving further details. .

The Saudi government did not respond to questions about the father’s ties to MbN or the reason for his arrest.

US CITIZENS

Lina al-Hathloul, sister of Loujain al-Hathloul, a women’s rights activist who has served time in prison and remains under a travel ban, doubts Saudi leaders will soften their stances in the wake of the Biden’s visit. Read more

“Loujain is in another prison, she is being watched and she feels isolated because people are afraid of being seen with her. It is a state that cannot be called freedom,” she said.

There was no immediate response from the Saudi government to a request for comment on Lina al-Hathloul’s claim that her sister is being watched.

Ahead of Biden’s visit, family members of detainees in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain sent letters to the White House asking Biden to push for their release, advocacy groups said. Rights.

Bader al-Ibrahim, an epidemiologist and journalist, and Salah al-Haidar, a media commentator whose mother Aziza al-Yousef is a women’s rights activist, will be among the Saudi cases closely watched during Biden’s trip. Both are US citizens, who were released from prison but still have travel bans.

Referring to Ibrahim and Yousef, Biden said in his op-ed that “he will continue to push for restrictions on their travel to be lifted.”

Areej al-Sadhan, a US citizen, whose brother is serving a 20-year prison sentence, which will be followed by a 20-year travel ban, imposed by a terrorism court, amid the trend for more violations of rights, there is hope the detainees could be freed if Biden raises human rights in his talks. Read more

Abdullah al-Awdah, son of prominent Islamist preacher Salman al-Awdah, who has been detained since 2017, agreed, saying his father’s health was deteriorating and Biden’s visit “will only help my father and ‘other detainees only if Biden wishes’. .”

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Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Michael Georgy, William Maclean

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