Saudi Arabia should immediately investigate the claims that authorities physically mistreated or coerced prominent people detained in November 2017 and hold those responsible to account, according to Human Rights Watch.
The rights group was reacting to a New York Times report which stated that 17 detainees among the princes, businessmen, and former and current government officials held at the five-star Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh required hospitalisation for physical abuse.
The report said they included one who later died in custody "with a neck that appeared twisted [and] a badly swollen body and other signs of abuse".
“The alleged mistreatment at the Ritz Carlton is a serious blow Mohammad bin Salman’s claims to be a modernizing reformist,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“While MBS jaunts across Western capitals to gin up foreign investments, investors should think twice the Saudis’ cavalier dismissal of the rule of law and fundamental rights.”
Human Rights Watch said it warned at the time that the November 4 mass arrests on corruption allegations raised human rights concerns and appeared to take place outside of any recognisable legal framework, with detainees forced to trade financial and business assets for their freedom. Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton Hotel, where many were held, became an unofficial detention centre.
On January 30, Saudi Arabia’s attorney general announced that authorities had “subpoenaed” 381 people in the corruption probe, but that authorities had released everyone who settled with the government or against whom there was not sufficient evidence.
The government said it had seized over SR400 billion ($106 billion) worth of assets, including “real estate, commercial entities, securities, cash and other assets.”
The Ritz Carlton in Riyadh reopened for business in early February.
Human Rights Watch said it has documented numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment in Saudi prisons and detention centres in recent years.
“It is great that the Saudi government wants to combat corruption, but its alleged tactics look more like extortion, and make a mockery of the rule of law,” Whitson said.
“As the new government tries to sell its reformist credentials to the public, governments, and investors, they should take a hard, skeptical look at what actually happened in the Riyadh Ritz Carlton and its implications.”
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