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Saudi princess under house arrest for wanting reforms

German network Deutsche Welle (DW) has revealed dramatic details of the disappearance of Saudi Princess Basmah, daughter of King Saud bin Abdulaziz.

According to an investigation carried by DW, Princess Basmah is likely to be under house arrest, along with one of her daughters in Riyadh.

The network quoted a source close to the princess, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to security reasons, saying: “While the family was communicating with the princess, I noticed that she could not speak freely because she was being monitored.”

DW reported that Princess Basmah has long been a supporter of constitutional reforms and human rights issues both in the Saudi Kingdom and throughout the region, expressing such opinions via various international media.

DW indicated that Princess Basmah’s detention is the reason for her disappearance, which took place at a time when views such as the ones voiced by the princess have angered the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, whom many see as de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.

Earlier media reports have linked bin Salman’s uneasiness about emancipative views to the assassinations, forced disappearances, imprisonment and intimidation of some of his critics, including members of the royal family.

The German network stated that Princess Basmah’s last tweet dates back to 5 July, about four and a half months ago.

DW quoted a source who conveyed that Princess Basmah was detained in March this year on suspicion of trying to flee the country with her daughter after she was scheduled to travel to Switzerland for treatment.

According to the documents obtained by DW, the princess had a travel permit to leave Jeddah, on 18 December last year, with her daughter, to receive urgent medical care as requested by her Swiss doctor.

Leonard Bennett, the lawyer who arranged the princess’s departure from Saudi Arabia, confirmed that her plane remained on the ground and was not allowed to take off.

Bennett also revealed that about two months after the incident “the princess disappeared completely and we no longer know where she is. No one knew where she was. We were afraid of the worst. However, after constant attempts to contact her, she re-appeared and looked like she was a hostage.”

Although the records show that the trip was heading to Geneva, lawyer Bennett asserted that the princess was scheduled to travel through Turkey, which Riyadh considers a hostile state, making such a trip suspicious.

The source close to Princess Basmah indicated: “They conducted an investigation to find out whether the allegations of the escape attempt are true. Even though the inquiry has been completed, there has been no answer to date. The information about the escape attempt was proved to be false. However, we still do not know why the princess is being held.

The source said he did not know who ordered the arrest of Princess Basmah, but insisted that the matter was not politically motivated and that what had happened was not ordered, as members of the ruling family knew.

DW quoted another source, the princess’s friend and co-worker, who asked not to be named, as saying that she had been missing since March, but added that the ruling family must know where the princess is.

“There are two other sources who say they don’t think Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman knows what happened, but I disagree. He indeed knows. Therefore, we insist on knowing the princess’s situation and the reasons for her detention,” the source said.

Princess Basmah, a mother of five, started writing for Saudi media in 2006 but has since become a businesswoman and an outspoken voice in publicly demanding for reforms, which has not always been in line with the visions, ideas and attitudes of Saudi Arabia’s rulers.

After her divorce, she moved between 2010 and 2011 to London, becoming a well-known media figure, and has appeared in numerous international forums highlighting corruption, humanitarian issues, and inequality in the distribution of wealth across the region. Princess Basmah also promoted constitutional reforms in the kingdom that would limit religious police powers and enshrine women’s rights in Saudi laws.

In 2012, the princess told the BBC that she was sad that Saudi Arabia had not pursued its plans for a constitutional monarchy, in which the king’s position is separated from the post of prime minister, a base founded and set by her late father, King Saud.

In an interview with The Independent in the same year, the princess said that calls for democracy throughout the region during the Arab Spring had made editors in Saudi newspapers worried enough to edit her articles. Still, at the same time, she received “very strong hints and signals” that her critical stands (were not) accepted.”

Perhaps the most noticeable statements during the previous period were when Princess Basmah explicitly called in early 2018 to end the Yemen war and the Gulf crisis with Qatar, in an interview with the BBC.

The German news network quoted oppositionist Madawi Al-Rasheed as saying that the reasons for the detention of Princess Basmah may be family disputes over legacy or custody of children.

The network pointed to an attack on a security man in which the sons of Princess Basmah were involved, which forced her to stay in Saudi Arabia and fight for the release of her sons.