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Detained Saudi prince moved to 'undisclosed' location, warns European lawmaker

Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz has been detained for nearly three years
An undated picture made available on 30 May 2020 by a friend of Saudi Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz shows him signing the visitors book in the German city of Dresden (AFP)

A detained Saudi prince has been moved to an "undisclosed location" with his father, according to a member of the European parliament.

Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz has been detained for nearly three years without charges after being swept up in 2018 along with his father in a wide-ranging crackdown, leaving his supporters asking why the minor royal who posed no apparent challenge to powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was targeted.

In a letter seen by AFP on Wednesday to the Saudi ambassador to the European Union, Belgian MEP Marc Tarabella said the prince and his father were removed from the villa in Riyadh where they had been kept under detention and "taken away to an undisclosed location".

The move comes despite international pressure for his release, as US President-elect Joe Biden's incoming administration threatens to intensify scrutiny of the kingdom's human rights record.

Prince Salman and his father were held in solitary confinement for around a year in the high-security Al-Hair prison near Riyadh and later held in a guarded villa in the capital, two sources close to him said.

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The prince was moved to a secret detention site in March but was mysteriously returned two months later to the villa, which is under high-security surveillance, the sources said, after a $2m US lobbying effort and petitions from European lawmakers calling for his release.

"It is clear that their current deprivation of liberty is arbitrary, and amounts to a violation of Saudi domestic and international obligations," said the letter dated Tuesday.

"I urge you to ask the Saudi government to provide immediately the whereabouts" of Prince Salman and his father Abdulaziz bin Salman, it added.

The letter from Tarabella, the vice chairman of the European Parliament's delegation for relations with the Arab Peninsula, was also sent to the Saudi embassies in France and Belgium, a parliament source told AFP.

Saudi authorities have so far not commented publicly on the case, and did not respond to AFP's request for comment on the alleged transfer.

Secret location

One of the sources close to the detained prince and his father also said that they had been moved to a secret location.

"No one knows where they moved them," this source told AFP. The two men were allowed regular phone calls to their family, but there has been no communication since Saturday. "They have disappeared," the source added.

Prince Salman is one of many royal family members incarcerated since the meteoric rise of MBS as the crown prince, the kingdom's de facto ruler, who has mounted a sweeping crackdown on dissenters, critics and political rivals.

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In August, two rights groups - the Geneva-based MENA Rights Group and the London-based ALQST - lodged a complaint to the UN over their detention, according to a document seen by AFP.

The prince and his father have never once been interrogated since their detention, adding to the arbitrariness of their detention, the rights groups and sources close to them told AFP.

Observers say what may have irked the royal court was Prince Salman's meeting with Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff just before the US elections in 2016.

Schiff is a critic of US President Donald Trump, a staunch backer of MBS. 

During his election campaign, Biden vowed to turn the kingdom into a "pariah".

But Saudi Arabia, which hosted the G20 summit last month with barely any public mention of human rights from the leaders of the world's wealthiest nations, appears in no mood to bow to international pressure.

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