KSA: Amid Biden’s plans to visit Riyadh, calls to speak truth to MBS on rights concerns

Human rights are escalating calls on US President to press MBS for immediate release of political prisoners and stop violations against regime critics, at a time when US is reportedly seeking full “reset” of relations with Saudi Arabia.

US officials said that the US has conveyed to Saudi Arabia that it is prepared to move forward with a “reset” of the relationship, effectively moving on from the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, reported CNN.

Rights organizations say Biden should fully exploit any opening to raise human rights concerns during his expected trip to Saudi Arabia.

He should also “demand freedom for the many people in Saudi Arabia detained or otherwise restricted in their liberties for political reasons.”

White House officials have confirmed President Biden intends to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the coming weeks. Though Biden cautioned last Friday that he still has “no direct plans” for such a trip, that was a classic non-denial denial, issued perhaps because there are still last-minute details to be resolved, stated a Washington Post editorial stated, adding:

“The bottom line is that, barring some unforeseen change, the US President will significantly soften the U.S. posture toward the regime whose de facto head, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS), bears primary responsibility for the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi — among other human rights violations — and which the president had previously promised, and attempted, to hold at a greater distance.”

Realpolitik has triumphed over moral considerations. Like so many of his predecessors, Mr. Biden has made U.S. access to the kingdom’s vast oil supplies his priority. Shaken by higher gas prices in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the administration has been pleading with the Saudis to tap their petroleum reserves.

These are probably the largest remaining such resource that could be brought to market in the short run — albeit with probably only modest effects on gas prices. A presidential visit to Saudi Arabia, and the legitimacy it confers upon the crown prince, is part of the price MBS is making Washington pay for that favor as well as for others, including steps toward recognizing Israel and a tenuous halt to Saudi Arabia’s war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

This is a deeply disappointing reversal, but Biden could still salvage some of his original, principled position. He could do this in two ways: first, by raising U.S. human rights concerns, including the Khashoggi case, while in Saudi Arabia — not only privately, in a meeting with MBS, but publicly, in any forum, such as a news conference, that presents itself. Biden should fully exploit any opening to do this, as presidents visiting other authoritarian states have at least tried to do in the past. Second, he should demand freedom for the many people in Saudi Arabia detained or otherwise restricted in their liberties for political reasons, stated the WP.

“Indeed, Biden should insist some or all of them be set free in conjunction with his visit. Three dual U.S.-Saudi citizens — Walid al-Fitaihi, Salah al-Haidar and Bader al-Ibrahim — have been arrested and detained on trumped-up charges at different times since MBS launched a crackdown on domestic opponents in November 2017. Though eventually released from jail, in part because of U.S. pressure, they remain under official suspicion and forbidden to leave the country, according to the Freedom Initiative, a U.S.-based nonprofit that monitors human rights in the Middle East.”

The Washington Post editorial also hoped that “US President might also allow time during his visit to talk with another U.S.-supported dictator, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi of Egypt, who will be in Saudi Arabia at the same time for a regional gathering.”

“If so, Biden should press for the release of Egyptian dissident Alaa Abdel Fattah, 40, a secular pro-democracy activist imprisoned for much of the past decade since Sisi took power in a coup. Modest though they would be, such gestures are the least Biden must do to retain U.S. consistency and credibility on human rights in the Arab world,” the WP editorial stated.

Calls to free relatives of Saudi spy

In the same context, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on Saudi Arabia on Friday to immediately release the jailed adult children and son-in-law of former top Saudi intelligence official, Saad Al-Jabri, who lives in exile.

In 2020, a Saudi court jailed Omar and Sarah Al-Jabri for money laundering and conspiracy to escape the Kingdom unlawfully, charges they deny.

They were arrested in Riyadh while Jabri’s son-in-law, Salem Almuzaini, was detained in Dubai and then flown to Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter and close ally of the United States.

The governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Riyadh said previously all the applicable legal procedures were followed throughout the case, and they were accorded all of their rights, including representation by counsel. The charges on which the Jabri siblings were convicted of were not related to the case against their father, it said.

On 4 November, 2020, a Saudi court sentenced Omar to nine years’ imprisonment and his sister received a 6.5 years term, without the opportunity to present or cross-examine witnesses.

The United Nations said Saudi Arabia should release Jabri’s children and Almuzaini immediately and unconditionally.

It called on the United Arab Emirates to compensate and provide reparations to Almuzaini for his detention.

Jabri was long an aide to another Saudi Royal, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, whom Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, ousted as heir to the throne in a 2017 palace coup.

“Unable to communicate with their immediate family and having been disappeared to a secret location, Mr. and Ms. Aljabri have reportedly suffered severe psychological torture,” said the United Nations in an opinion.

“During this detention, Almuzaini was allegedly physically and psychologically tortured: he was beaten and lashed and held incommunicado, with Saudi forces denying him visits and contact with anyone outside of the prison.”

In 2020, Jabri, who is living in exile in Canada, alleged in a lawsuit filed in a US court that MBS sent a team to kill him in 2018, but the effort was foiled by Canadian authorities.

In a 107-page lawsuit against MBS and 24 others filed in federal court in the District of Columbia, Jabri said the Crown Prince “dispatched a hit squad” to Canada in October 2018.

The alleged incident took place less than two weeks after Saudi agents murdered journalist, Jamal Khashoggi in the Kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.

The Crown Prince’s lawyers have rejected Jabri’s allegations and said MBS has legal immunity in the United States as a foreign head of state. Dismissing the allegations in 2020, MBS’s lawyer, Michael Kellogg, described them as “steeped in drama”.