Victims Subject to Brutal Torture, including Beatings of Genitals, Forced to Crawl on Floor and Bark like Dogs
(Washington, D.C. July 17, 2023) – The United States Department of Treasury should sanction Saudi Minister of State, head of the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property, and close advisor to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) Mohammed bin Abdulmalek al-Sheikh for his role in gross human rights abuses, including overseeing the infamous 2017-2018 Ritz-Carlton Hotel torture, detentions, and lawless asset confiscations of over 400 of Saudi business executives, former government officials, and royal family members, said Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN). DAWN submitted an official request to the U.S. Treasury to sanction al-Sheikh under the Global Magnitsky Act on July 14.
"Mohammed al-Sheikh played a leading role doing MBS's dirty work, supervising the torture and abuse of his fellow Saudi citizens, and MBS has rewarded him handsomely for his crimes against Saudi citizens," said Sarah Leah Whitson, DAWN's Executive Director. "The very least that the U.S. government could do is to hold him accountable by slapping him with Magnitsky Sanctions, which were designed to punish and deter exactly these kinds of abuses."
On February 23, DAWN released a report documenting al-Sheikh's abuses, primarily tied to the arrest, torture and confiscation of assets of around 400 Saudi business executives, former government officials, and royal family members. One victim, Salem Almuzaini, identified al-Sheikh as the senior figure who ordered the unlawful confiscation of his assets when he was detained at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel between November 2017 and January 2018. He also stated that al-Sheikh was present at his interrogation and torture sessions. Two other individuals whom the Saudi State Security forces detained for their peaceful activism in 2018 and tortured, also identified al-Sheikh as a senior figure present at their interrogation and torture sessions.
DAWN spoke with the family of Salem Almuzaini, who verified his testimony that al-Sheikh was the senior figure at the Ritz-Carlton who was present during his interrogation and torture sessions, and who ordered the unlawful confiscation of his assets. Three of Almuzaini's family members whom DAWN interviewed on multiple occasions between January and November 2021 confirmed Almuzaini's account, submitted in an affidavit to the Ontario Superior Court in June 2021, stating they heard these details from him and acquired notes he wrote about the incidents before his rearrest by the Saudi authorities.
Almuzaini went on to describe the physical and psychological torture he endured on multiple occasions at al-Haer Prison in Jeddah and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Riyadh between September 2017 and January 2018, including beatings, whippings, forced stress positions, electrocution, and food deprivation. He added that the officers subjected him to 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. Saudi officers tortured Almuzaini when they initially detained him in Jeddah, again after transferring him to Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and then again after moving him to Riyadh's al-Haer Prison.
Almuzaini confirmed to his family and in his affidavit that al-Sheikh was present during some of the interrogation and torture sessions at the Ritz-Carlton. He said he heard al-Sheikh order his assistant, Hendi Alsuhaimi, to ensure that Almuzaini transfer his money and assets, including co-ownership of Sky Prime Aviation, to the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF). These included two private planes transferred from Sky Prime to the PIF that MBS later used to transport the hit squad that killed and dismembered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2, 2018. Almuzaini also identified ten Royal Court and State Security Presidency officers and other Saudi officials involved in the murder of Khashoggi as the same individuals who took part in his own torture and physical abuse. These are Badr Lafi Alotaibi, Saud al-Qahtani, Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, Meshal Albostani, Mohammed Saad Alzahrani, Saif al-Qahtani, Abdulaziz Alhawsawi, Mustafa Mohammed al-Madani, and Fahad Shabib Albalawi.
Months after his initial release on January 18, 2018, Almuzaini's body still showed the marks of torture, as documented in the pictures attached to his affidavit. According to family members who spoke to DAWN in November 2021, after his initial release, Almuzaini required plastic surgery to fill an indentation in his forehead caused by a strike from an interrogator. During this time, Almuzaini's toenails continued to fall off due to repeated blows to his legs and feet. According to the same sources, Almuzaini suffers from anxiety and trauma as a result of his detention and torture.
Two other individuals, whose names and further identifying details we keep confidential to protect their safety, told DAWN that State Security forces detained them in 2018 and tortured them for their peaceful activism. They said that they recognized al-Sheikh from their own torture sessions. Both said they saw a person whose appearance was similar to al-Sheikh's despite the face mask that covered most of his face and noticed that their interrogators and others in the room were deferential to him, reflecting his formal position and status in the Saudi government. They also told DAWN that the voice of the masked person, whom they suspect was al-Sheikh, matched al-Sheikh's voice, whom they knew prior to their imprisonment. When one of them asked the masked person his name, he refused to answer.
"The nature and scale of al-Sheikh's abuses, involving the detention, torture, and confiscation of assets of hundreds of Saudis, require a stern action from the Biden administration," said Raed Jarrar, DAWN's Advocacy Director. "Sanctioning al-Sheikh will send an important message to U.S. partners and allies that the Biden Administration hasn't completely abandoned human rights in its foreign policy."
Mohammed al-Sheikh is a close advisor to Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman. After his role in the torture and abuse of Ritz Carlton detainees, MBS appointed him chairman of the Saudi Authority for Intellectual Property and member of the Council for Economic Affairs and Developmen on November 13, 2020. He has served also as Minister of State and cabinet member since January 24, 2015. Previously, a royal decree appointed him head of the Saudi Sports Authority in April 2017 and head of the Saudi government's Capital Market Authority from 2013 until 2017. He holds an LL.M. from Harvard University and worked at the World Bank as a representative of Saudi Arabia from 1999 to 2001 and 2012 to 2013.