Omar and Sarah Al-Jabri: Months of collective punishment and the tragedy continues
It has now been more than 16 months since the two siblings, Omar and Sarah, children of Saad Al-Jabri, the former intelligence official in Saudi Arabia, were arrested in order to force their father to return to Saudi Arabia and stop his opposition activity against the current regime.
The tragedy started in 2017 when the Saudi authorities prevented Al-Jabri’s daughter, Sarah, from traveling to complete her studies in UAE on June 21, 2017, days after Mohamed bin Nayef was removed from the throne, and Mohamed bin Salman assumed his position.
Omar refused to travel without his sister, for the two siblings to forcibly remain inside the kingdom, for “security reasons,” according to what the airport authorities said in Sarah’s travel ban document.
Al-Jabri tried to communicate with the Saudi regime to allow his two children to travel, where he wrote to MBS, according to documents reviewed by human rights and judicial authorities, but MBS demanded the return of Al-Jabri to the country in exchange for “ending the problem of Omar and Sarah.”
Al-Jabri’s money was frozen in KSA, and in March 2020, the Saudi authorities arrested the two siblings, and took them to an unknown location, and cut their news until January 2021, that is, after ten months during which the two siblings were exposed to a number of violations that appeared in the secret ruling issued against them.
At the beginning of January 2021, the Saudi authorities transferred the two siblings from their unknown detention center to two different prisons in Riyadh, where Sarah is in Al-Malz Prison and Omar is in Al-Haiir prison. The authorities allowed them for the first time to contact their family in Saudi Arabia. The two siblings are still prevented from receiving family visits or contacting their family abroad.
The authorities refused to respond to the family’s requests to disclose the whereabouts of Omar and Sarah’s detention until January of this year. According to the family, they learned about the holding of court sessions for the two siblings by chance, as the authorities prevented them from any legal representation, and also prevented them from communicating with the family.
They were sentenced in a hearing in November 2020 and about a month later the sentence was upheld in a secret session that the family learned about when a lawyer representing Crown Prince MBS filed a lawsuit in the USA that Saad Al-Jabri brought before a US federal court.
In November 2020, a Saudi court had sentenced Omar and Sarah Al-Jabri in an unfair trial to nine and six and a half years in prison, respectively, for “money laundering” and “attempting to escape” from Saudi Arabia.
On December 24, 2020, the Court of Appeal confirmed the sentences issued against them in a secret session in their absence, and the court did not formally provide the two siblings, the lawyer, or any of the family members with a copy of the final judgment and its merits or the appeal decision.
The ruling relied on the two siblings’ confessions, which were extracted illegally, as the investigations were not conducted in the presence of a lawyer, and the trial did not take the course of justice.
Moreover, the charges raised against them were before they turned eighteen, in a new violation of the provisions of The 2018 Juvenile Law, which includes reduced provisions for children who allegedly committed crimes or persons who committed crimes while they were children.
In a recent statement issued by Human Rights Watch, the siblings were accused of “money laundering” in violation of the anti-money laundering system, and of attempting to “escape” from KSA in an “irregular manner.”
According to the case files, “irregular escape” indicates that they attempted to travel to the USA in 2017 to study, and the case files do not explain how or why this travel is considered “irregular,” and the charges does not mention the name of the main plaintiff, which is unusual in court proceedings, as the court ruling identified only two judges of the three who signed it, which is also unusual.
Michael Page, deputy director of the Middle East division at Human Rights Watch, said: “The treatment of Omar and Sarah al-Jabri shows the extent to which Saudi Arabia will put pressure on people who refuse to comply. Detaining a young woman and a young man, subjecting them to arbitrary travel bans, and a hasty trial only to pressure their father is collective punishment, that requires accountability and justice.”
For our part, we confirm that Omar and Sarah were subjected to collective punishment, an approach followed by the Saudi regime to abuse the opponents and their families, in an attempt to undermine their will, silence them, and force them to obey orders.
We call on the international community, including journalists, activists, human rights defenders, governments, systems, and UN bodies, to intervene to pressure the Saudi authorities to release Omar and Sarah Al-Jabri and to end the policy of collective punishment for people who did not choose to be a party to any conflict to pay the price.
We stress the need to respect the right of everyone to express his opinion freely and to ensure that he or any of his family members or those close to him are not subjected to harm when using his legitimate right to peaceful opposition or criticizing any of the regime’s policies.