Skip to main content

Famous Saudi doctor moved to high-security jail, source says

Walid Fitaihi was transferred to a maximum security prison after being held in the Ritz-Carlton for three months following a sweeping crackdown
Walid Fitaihi, best-known for his TV show dedicated to bodily, mental and spiritual health, was held in Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton hotel (Screengrab/Twitter)

A popular Saudi reformist and TV presenter arrested last year in a sweeping corruption probe has been sent to a maximum security prison while his many of his co-accused are granted their freedom, local sources say. 

Walid Fitaihi, best-known for the television show Mahyay, was moved from Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton hotel, which was being used to hold many of the high-profile prisoners detained in the round-up, to al-Hair prison south of the capital, according to Saudi activists.

Fitaihi, a doctor who graduated from George Washington University, was first placed on a no-fly list in October before he was detained at the hotel in November, according to activist-led Twitter account Prisoners of Conscience.

The luxury hotel had been used as an interrogation centre, with some detainees being tortured for information on their bank accounts and assets, Middle East Eye has reported

Fitaihi was among dozens of princes, scholars and businessmen rounded up in the sweeping purge, which the kingdom has painted as a necessary step towards realising economic reforms. Many of those detained were released in recent days. 

"There are no longer any detainees left at the Ritz-Carlton," an official told Reuters on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity under briefing rules.

The state news agency, SPA, quoting the attorney general, later said that 56 remain in detention at other locations in Saudi Arabia.

Fitaihi's popular TV show Mahyay is dedicated to conversations around keeping the mind, body and soul healthy. He is also known for his reformist activism and has two million Twitter followers.

Fitaihi also founded and is the CEO of the International Medical Centre (IMC), a hospital in Jeddah. The Fitaihi family is also known for several businesses in the silver and gold trade. 

Social media users reacted strongly to the news of Fitaihi's continued detention. Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi wrote on Twitter: "What has happened to us? How can someone like Dr Walid Fitahi be arrested and what are the justifications for it?

"Of course everyone is in a state of confusion and helplessness, there is no one you can go to, no public prosecutor has questioned. God help us."

Under the auspices of an anti-corruption committee, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, prominent Saudi princes and businessmen were detained and held in the lavish hotel in Riyadh in November.

Among those held were Prince Mitaib bin Abdullah, previous head of the Saudi Arabian National Guard, billionaire tycoon al-Waleed bin Talal, who has now been released, Abdullah al-Sultan, commander of the Saudi navy, and Khalid al-Mulheim, the former director general of Saudi Arabian Airlines.