Editor's note: Malik al-Dowaish wrote the following article before he was arrested in Saudi Arabia in July. He had campaigned for years for the release of his father, Sulaiman al-Dowaish, who was detained and forcibly disappeared in Saudi Arabia in 2016. Before his own arrest last month, Malik al-Dowaish recorded a video, which has been reviewed by DAWN, in which he said that organizations should publish his writing and advocacy even in the event of his arrest.
Update: Malik al-Dowaish was released from prison on Sept. 2, 2022, following the release of his brother, Abdulwahhab.
Saudi authorities abducted, tortured and forcibly disappeared my father, Sulaiman al-Dowaish, a religious scholar, in 2016. My family has not heard from him ever since. Saudi officials are now targeting us for daring to ask whether he is still alive.
Last year, Saudi officials re-arrested my younger brother, Abdulwahhab al-Dowaish, in retaliation against our family's efforts to advocate for our father's release, or at least to learn about his fate. The first time Saudi officials arrested my brother, they told him to never ask about our father's whereabouts again. My father is probably the first victim of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's personal militia, the "Tiger Squad," formally known as the Rapid Intervention Force. It is the same group that later killed Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Former detainees who saw my father at the crown prince's palace after his abduction told me that Maher Mutrib and Mishal al-Bustani, two key Tiger Squad members, were involved in the torture of my father.
I am writing this article to appeal to the Biden administration to pressure the Saudi government to release my father, stop harassing our family and allow us to live in peace. When Joe Biden won the U.S. presidential election, he promised to make human rights a central tenet of American foreign policy. Biden also promised to hold those responsible for Khashoggi's murder accountable and to reshape the U.S.-Saudi relationship with the clear understanding that it would not tolerate such grave human right abuses.
But so far, Biden has not made good on these promises. And until the administration places real pressure on the Saudi government, there is little reason to believe that it will stop its harassment, torture and killing of its own citizens. Throughout the Middle East, U.S. credibility is waning. To restore its credibility, the U.S. government must stop siding with the region's autocrats and looking the other way when human rights abuses happen.
My family has not heard from our father for six years. Saudi officials are now targeting us for daring to ask whether he is still alive.
- Malik al-Dowaish
My father's ordeal started on April 22, 2016, when he disappeared after a few tweets over how to raise children. Some misinterpreted these tweets as criticism leveled against Mohammed bin Salman during his rivalry with the former crown prince, Mohammed bin Nayef. According to an eyewitness who spoke to our family, Saudi officials abducted my father from a hotel in Mecca, eventually flying him to Riyadh where he was then taken, handcuffed and chained, to the office of Mohammed bin Salman. Then, as reported by MENA Rights Group (and later covered in Democracy in Exile), officials forced my father to his knees and Mohammed bin Salman began to assault him, punching him in the chest and throat while berating him over these tweets. My father started bleeding excessively from his mouth until he fell unconscious.
We have not heard from him since that day. We only learned of his arrest after finding his name on the registry of prisoners maintained by the state security agency. Even then, all we discovered was that Saudi officials arrested him on April 22, 2016 and that he was "under investigation."
Since then, nearly all evidence of my father's very existence has disappeared. Strangely, we received two brief phone calls in 2018 that were supposed to be from my father. Both calls appeared to come from a U.S. phone number. On the first call, someone who claimed to be my father said he was calling from Turkey, and then from Syria on the second call, when he said that he was traveling to Syria to join ISIS. This was clearly a fabrication, since before his abduction, my father, who is a prominent religious scholar, had publicly opposed ISIS and condemned those joining the group.
Convinced that these calls were fakes, we contacted Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, who served as deputy minister of the interior from 1975 until 2012. Prince Ahmed eventually confirmed to us that the calls were made from within Saudi Arabia and that the Tiger Squad was detaining my father. When I was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal in our home in Riyadh last year about my father's disappearance, the journalist requested a statement from the Saudi Embassy in Washington. Their answer was equally outlandish, claiming that my father left Saudi Arabia illegally to fight in Syria. I have no doubt that the Saudi government invented this story to cover up the crimes it committed against my father.
After I showed the Presidency of State Security a printed copy from their own online portal that my father was detained, State Security officials, including Chief of State Security Gen. Abdulaziz al-Huwairini, told me it was a mistake. My father's record of detention was then immediately deleted from their system.
Until the Biden administration places real pressure on the Saudi government, there is little reason to believe that it will stop its harassment, torture and killing of its own citizens.
- Malik al-Dowaish
This past April marked six years of forced disappearance for my father. Every night I go to bed, I hope that I will hear good news about my father in the morning. I do not know how to express my pain and frustration for the ordeal that we are going through, where begging for even the slightest bit of information has become a grim routine. My younger brother Abdullah was only three years old when our father was disappeared. Five years later, his memories of him are fading, and he has now known more life without our father than with him. My dream now is just to know if our father is alive.
I stayed quiet for so long, hoping that my father's plight could end. But as the Saudi government continues to harass and arrest my family members for simply asking questions about my father's whereabouts, I can no longer be silenced.
I am speaking out from our home in Riyadh, here in Saudi Arabia, and risking a brutal reaction from the Saudi government. But I am willing to do anything to secure the release of my father and brother. All that we ask from President Biden is that he keeps his word and that he stands with the people of Saudi Arabia.