WASHINGTON — Saudi authorities tried in recent weeks to entice a Saudi woman who had been living in the United States with her family to enter their Istanbul consulate to discuss the location of her father, the deputy governor of Jiddah, when she went there to visit him, she told The Washington Post.
At issue was a claim that she made in social media postings about her father that she was being held under arrest and was a target of a cleric who has had tremendous influence in the kingdom, Amal al-Sharif, a former diplomat and co-founder of Dream Saudi Arabia, a nonprofit that promotes women’s empowerment. She said the detentions also were intended to put pressure on her family.
“They say ‘we have all the files, we know you have those types of people. We have all this information,’” Sharif told The Post. “And at the end, they will say, ‘Good, get out of here, no problem.’”
Neither Sharif nor the State Department would publicly confirm her account.
“We take allegations involving detained citizens extremely seriously and are working with the appropriate authorities to ensure their well-being,” the State Department said.
Saudi officials have told The Post that they can confirm that Sharif’s father is under arrest, but the Saudi Embassy in Washington, while declining to answer questions about her claims, said the consulate in Istanbul “retains a confidentiality guarantee with respect to the personal affairs of every Saudi citizen regardless of their citizenship.”
The Turkish government has issued a statement denying that the kingdom or any of its officials are involved in the detentions of women or other social activists.
Sharif is the daughter of Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi ambassador to the United States. In October, he was charged in Saudi Arabia with fraud involving a case of breach of trust by his financial adviser, “which resulted in losses of several million dollars,” according to a Saudi statement. A CNN report, citing court documents, said the investment he was accused of committing involved a minimum of $200 million and was worth $250 million. But when a Saudi prosecutor tried to question him, his attorney asked for a postponement. It was not immediately clear why the lawyer gave the judge notice that he could not proceed.
An indictment against al-Faisal was filed, according to the State Department, in December. He is in prison in Saudi Arabia but has not been formally arrested.
Murph describes the family’s ordeal with the new twists and turns of her father’s treatment as part of “the broader challenge that the Saudi government faces.”
“Saudi Arabia has a bad reputation. But there are also people there who really believe in this country and this country’s goals,” said Shariff, who said she and her mother had initially adopted a “wait-and-see” approach with respect to her father, believing it was best to wait for the due process of law to play out. “But we started to pay attention to what was happening.”
The family decided against seeking immediate travel to Saudi Arabia and forced Hassan Sharif to come to the United States as well.
Amal al-Sharif said that her father and her mother, Safiyah, were held for a week in an underground cell with other prisoners who were not being allowed their personal items. She was only allowed to shower once a day.
Her father was not allowed to talk with anyone. His mother had to ask for permission to call him twice a day. She said her mother was later told that she was to place the call on the news.
In the end, Prince Turki al-Faisal was not charged in connection with the investment fraud that landed him in prison.