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Saudi Arabia: British MPs urge UK to impose sanctions on Riyadh for detaining royals

Cross-party probe concludes that Mohammed bin Nayef and Prince Ahmed are being mistreated in detention
Saudi Arabia did not accept the MPs request to see Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (right) after he was detained in an unknown location since March 2020 (AFP)

British MPs have called on their government and other countries to impose "Magnitsky-style" sanctions on Saudi Arabia and halt extraditions to the kingdom in response to growing concerns over human rights. 

The calls for sanctions come in a cross-party investigatory panel report into the detention of former Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef (MBN) and King Salman's brother, Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz. 

Released on Thursday, the fact-finding panel, chaired by Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, concluded that it was "highly likely" that the two royals had been arbitrarily detained in an unknown location since March. 

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Other members of the fact-finding panel include Conservative MP Imran Ahmad Khan and Layla Moran, a member of parliament from the Liberal Democrat party. 

The MPs interviewed mainly dissidents, human rights groups, senior UK government officials and Mohammed bin Nayef's allies. They had little success attempting to access the kingdom and its officials.

The British politicians were advised on human rights law by the London law firm Bindmans, which served as legal secretary to the panel.

"On the balance of probabilities, the allegations made on behalf of the detainees are likely to be true and are consistent with the general treatment of prisoners, particularly human rights activists," the report noted. 

"There are real concerns that both detainees have been denied access to appropriate and adequate medical care leading to a deterioration in their health... The detainees have been subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."

Mohammed bin Nayef, who was deposed as crown prince in 2017, and Prince Ahmed, son of the founder of the Saudi kingdom, are both considered potential rivals of Mohammed bin Salman, the powerful heir to the throne.

They were arrested in March during a crackdown on senior royals. Since their arrest, neither prince has faced any formal charges, and the government has not explained their prolonged detention, according to the report. 

Sources told Reuters that Ahmed was Mohammed bin Salman's main target, as he was one of three members of the kingdom's Allegiance Council - which rules on succession - who opposed his ascension to crown prince.

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Ahmed is a senior royal who served as deputy interior minister from 1975 to 2012, and recently lived in exile in London. He returned to the kingdom in October 2018 in the wake of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, after receiving reassurances he would not be arrested. 

Mohammed bin Nayef is a former intelligence chief and interior minister who is well known among western governments.

Evidence submitted to the panel found that bin Nayef has lost a considerable amount of weight during his detention and suffered "from pains in his joints... making it difficult for him to walk comfortably without assistance".

The panel believes that the prince was threatened with solitary confinement again if he refused to release funds.

Human rights abuses

The MPs said the continued detention of the royals could pose a threat to governments across the West, as they feared Saudi Arabia would be "pilloried in the wider court of public opinion" if it did not abide by the norms of international law towards its own citizens. 

The report also suggests the UK and other countries impose penalties in the style of the United States' Magnitsky Act, which targets individuals who have perpetrated human rights abuses.

In June, Britain imposed similar sanctions on 19 Saudi officials implicated in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

The report also suggested Britain restrict the number of extradition requests made by Saudi Arabia and suspend prisoner transfer agreements. 

'There are real concerns that both detainees have been denied access to appropriate and adequate medical care leading to a deterioration in their health... The detainees have been subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment'

- MPs' report

Other recommendations made by the report include calls for governments to require social media companies to prevent and help "identify campaigns of public intimidation by state actors or individuals who appear to be coordinated by state actors".

Saudi Arabia's government did not cooperate with the report after the panel requested to visit the kingdom and meet the detained royals. The Saudi ambassador to the UK, however, met with the three MPs involved in compiling the report. 

Saudi Arabia continues to face criticism over its human rights record elsewhere. 

In the last week, a Saudi terrorism court heard the prosecutor seek a 20-year prison sentence for women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul. 

The court heard the prosecutor use Hathloul's tweets promoting a woman's right to drive as evidence against her in the trial. 

Also this week, Norway's Dagbladet newspaper revealed that Saudi Arabia had requested Oslo give diplomatic immunity to a 10-man security team in 2018.  

Following the incident, the Norwegian police informed exiled activist Iyad el-Baghdadi, who said he believed the request was connected to him hosting Khashoggi in 2018. 

US senators, meanwhile, have also said they are "appalled" by Saudi Arabia's decision to sentence Walid Fitaihi, a doctor and American citizen who was jailed for six years on charges labelled as politically motivated.

Fitaihi was arrested in 2017 as part of a purge led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that targeted dozens of businessmen and royals.  

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