Outspoken Saudi princess released after nearly three years in jail

Saudi authorities have released a princess and her daughter who had been detained without charge for nearly three years.

Princess Basmah bint Saud bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, 57, an outspoken human rights advocate and member of the royal family, went missing in March 2019 along with her adult daughter Souhoud al-Sharif.

“The two ladies were released from their arbitrary imprisonment, and arrived at their home in Jeddah on Thursday 6 January 2022,” her legal adviser Henri Estramant said on Saturday.

“The princess is doing fine but will be seeking medical expertise. She seems worn out but is in good spirits, and thankful to reunite with her sons in person.”

The government has not made a comment about her release. It has never publicly commented about the case.

In 2020, Princess Basmah said via social media that she had been imprisoned in the capital Riyadh for more than a year and was sick. She demanded that the current ruler and her cousin, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, release her and provide medical care.

She claimed she was being detained without charge in al-Ha’ir prison, where numerous other political detainees have been held, and neither she nor her daughter received explanations for their arrests, despite repeated pleas to the kingdom’s royal court, and to her uncle King Salman.

The youngest child of the late King Saud, Princess Basmah has been critical of the kingdom’s treatment of women.

She had been due to travel abroad for medical treatment around the time of her arrest in late February 2019, and was informed after her detention that she was accused of trying to forge a passport, a close relative said at the time. The nature of her illness has never been disclosed.

Following her release, rights group ALQST for Human Rights said: “She was denied the medical care she needed for a potentially life-threatening condition. At no point during her detention has any charge been levelled against her.”

Prince Mohammed has overseen a reform drive since he was appointed by his father King Salman in Junie 2017 at the expense of the previous designated heir to the throne, Mohammed bin Nayef.

Reforms have included lifting a decades-long ban on women driving and the easing of so-called “guardianship” rules that give men arbitrary authority over female relatives. But Saudi authorities have also cracked down on dissidents and even potential opponents, ranging from preachers to women’s rights activists, even royals.

In written testimony to the UN in 2020 Princess Basmah’s family said her detention was likely due in large part to her “record as an outspoken critic of abuses”. She was also deemed an ally of Mohammed bin Nayef, the written testimony added.

With Reuters and Agence France-Presse

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