Saudi Government's Renewed Detention of Almuzaini Marks Continued Efforts to Punish Former Saudi Official Saad Aljabri
(Washington D.C., April 4, 2022) – Saudi authorities should immediately release Salem Almuzaini and hold accountable all Saudi government officials involved in his arbitrary detention and torture, said Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).
U.S. officials should impose Magnitsky sanctions on Salah al-Jutaili, Mohammed bin Abdulmalek al-Sheikh, and Hendi Alsuhaimi, three Saudi officials implicated in Almuzani's detention, torture, and extortion, as well as other human rights abuses, added DAWN.
"Saudi authorities arbitrarily arrested and forcibly disappeared Salem Almuzaini in August 2020 and they have detained him without allowing any contact with his family for almost a year. They should release him immediately," said Abdullah Alaoudh, Research Director for the Gulf Region at DAWN. "The U.S. government should hold Saudi officials responsible for Almuzaini's persecution accountable by placing them under Global Magnitsky sanctions, specifically designed for just such human rights abuses."
Saudi State Security officials arrested and arbitrarily detained Salem Almuzaini, the son-in-law of Saad Aljabri, a close advisor to deposed former Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, on August 24, 2020. Almuzaini's family has only heard from him once since December 2020, during a very brief phone call from a Saudi prison on May 31, 2021.
Saudi officials have since detained and tortured bin Nayef. They have also detained two of Aljabri's children, Omar and Sarah, as well as Almuzaini's brother, Majed. Saudi officials renewed Almuzaini's detention in apparent retaliation for Aljabri's lawsuit against Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (MBS) in U.S. federal court, in which Aljabri alleges that MBS sent a team of operatives to Canada to kill him. Aljabri filed his lawsuit on August 6, 2020 and Saudi officials arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared Almuzaini about two weeks later.
"The Saudi government brutally tortured and detained Almuzaini to force him to surrender his assets to the government, and then rearrested and disappeared him simply to punish his father-in-law Saad Aljabri for daring to hold MBS accountable in U.S. court," said Alaoudh.
- Read more: Salem Almuzaini: Detained, Extorted, Tortured, and Disappeared — Saudi Businessman Implicates MBS's Tiger Squad in Further Abuses
DAWN interviewed Almuzaini's family members and reviewed affidavits from Almuzaini submitted in litigation between Aljabri and the Saudi government in Canada. DAWN has documented the role of 12 Saudi officials responsible for Almuzaini's torture and abuse, several of whom are also implicated in the murder of Saudi journalist and democracy activist Jamal Khashoggi.
Saudi authorities first detained Almuzaini on September 27, 2017 and held him until January 18, 2018. During this time, they subjected him to torture and ill-treatment, including at the Ritz- Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, where the Saudi government arbitrarily detained hundreds of Saudi business leaders, former government officials, and royal family members to force them to surrender their assets to the government.
In his testimony filed in Canadian courts and corroborated by family members interviewed by DAWN, Almuzaini describes the physical and psychological torture to which his Saudi interrogators subjected him, including beatings, whippings, forced stress positions, electrocution, and food deprivation. He describes beatings with iron bars and cruel practices, such as a prison guard whipping his genitals each time he walked to the washroom.
Further cruel, inhuman, and degrading practices included forcing Almuzaini to crawl on the floor and bark like a dog. After his release from detention and before being re-detained, Almuzaini required plastic surgery to fill an indentation in his forehead caused by a strike from an interrogator and his toenails continued to fall off due to repeated blows to his legs and feet.
"The torture and cruel treatment that Almuzaini endured is outrageous, but consistent with many accounts from Saudis detained, abused, and extorted during MBS's shakedown of his perceived political opponents at the Ritz-Carlton," said Alaoudh. "U.S. officials should utilize Magnitsky sanctions to hold these interrogators and torturers accountable for their acts."
While detained at the Ritz-Carlton, Saudi officials forced Almuzaini to transfer 400 million Saudi Riyals ($108 million USD) and ownership of Sky Prime Aviation, which Almuzaini headed as CEO, to the Saudi government via the Public Investment Fund, the country's sovereign wealth fund.
Saudi officials never charged Almuzaini with a crime, but they accused him of embezzlement and money laundering, despite presenting no public evidence to substantiate their claims. They released Almuzaini only after forcing him to sign over these assets, but then banned him from traveling and reuniting with his family and required him to wear an ankle monitor.
After Almuzaini's initial release, Saudi officials continued to harass him and pressured him to convince his wife Hissah to renew her passport at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The last attempt to compel Almuzaini to convince Hissah to visit the Saudi consulate in Istanbul occurred in September 2018, less than a month before Saudi operatives murdered Jamal Khashoggi there. Between his initial release in 2018 and his re-arrest in 2020, Almuzaini communicated with his family, but he was very careful when doing so because the government actively monitored him and likely his electronic devices.
Saudi authorities re-arrested Almuzaini on August 24, 2020, following the disappearance of his brother Majed on June 20, 2020, and the arrest of the children of former Saudi official Saad Aljabri, Sarah and Omar, in March 2020. While the government has brought fantastic charges against Sarah and Omar, who were ages 17 and 18 at the time of their arrest, there are no charges against the Almuzaini brothers. All these arrests appear to be part of a campaign of retaliation against Saad Aljabri.
Salem Almuzaini's arrest and renewed detention appears tied specifically to the lawsuit that Aljabri filed against MBS in U.S. federal court. Aljabri filed his lawsuit on August 6, 2020 and Saudi authorities re-arrested and forcibly disappeared Salem Almuzaini about two weeks later. Aljabri now lives in Canada. He recounted efforts of the MBS-controlled hit squad that murdered Khashoggi to also murder him in a 60 Minutes feature story last October.
"The forcible disappearances of Salem Almuzaini, and imprisonment of Omar and Sarah Aljabri, are nothing more than collective punishment to pressure their father Saad Aljabri to return to Saudi Arabia and abandon his lawsuit against MBS," said Alaoudh." These arrests are a stark reminder of MBS's willingness to use the country's security services as vehicles for his personal acts of revenge."
DAWN has provided complete details about Saudi officials implicated in Khashoggi's murder that Almuzaini identified as interrogators and torturers during his detainment, including Badr Lafi Alotaibi, a major in Saudi Arabia's General Intelligence; Maher Mutreb, a Saudi intelligence officer and personal bodyguard of MBS; Meshaal Albostani, a First Lieutenant in the Saudi Air Force; Mohamed Alzahrani, a Saudi intelligence officer and Royal Guard; Saif Alqahtani, a training specialist in the Saudi Air Force; Abdulaziz Alhawsawi, a Saudi Royal Guard and member of MBS's security detail; Mustafa Almadani, a Saudi Brigadier General and a high-ranking intelligence officer who acted as Khashoggi's body double in Istanbul; and Fahad Albalawi, a Saudi Royal Guard and member of the Saudi royal family's security detail.
Saudi State Security Major General Salah al-Jutaili, who oversaw Almuzaini's 2018 release and renewed detention in 2020, also oversaw the harassment, detention, and abuse of other high-profile detainees including Loujain Alhathloul and Salman Alodah. According to Almuzaini's handwritten testimony in an affidavit filed in Ontario Superior Court on June 30, 2021, al-Jutaili is also responsible for the forced disappearance of Salem Almuzaini's brother, Majed Almuzaini, on June 20, 2020, and of Almuzaini's brother-in-law Omar Aljabri and his sister-in-law Sarah Aljabri. Saudi authorities arrested Omar and Sarah in March 2020 and have held them incommunicado since January 2021. DAWN filed a Global Magnitsky sanction submission for al-Jutaili in June 2021.
"Jamal Khashoggi's murder and dismemberment, as shocking and reprehensible as it was, was not a one-off event or a single miscalculation by the Crown Prince, but part of a strategy to rule by intimidation, fear, and when necessary, terrible violence," said Alaoudh.