Human rights reports revealed that the Saudi authorities arrested five family members of US citizen Rakan Nader Aldossari, 15, arguing that the detentions were a reprisal for the lawsuit the family filed against the Saudi government.
“Nearly five years since Saudi Arabia’s murder of Jamal Khashoggi, its government continues to attack US citizens, this time, by prosecuting family members in Saudi Arabia in retaliation for a commercial lawsuit brought against the Saudi government in Pennsylvania,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Dawn’s executive director, said.
“The very least the Biden administration can do is protect US citizens and their family members from such gross acts of extraterritorial repression,” she added.
According to the Aldossari family, Saudi security forces detained four of the five Aldossari family members on May 11, 2023, including Rakan Aldossari’s two uncles, Dr. Salman Turki Aldossari and Sultan Turki Aldossari; one aunt; and his grandfather’s wife, Muneerah Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Kuwaiti citizen in Riyadh’s al-Malaz prison.
Earlier, on April 9, security forces had detained another one of Aldossari’s uncles, Nayef Turki Aldossari. According to family members, they are detained in poor conditions, some in cold cells with no blankets or proper beds.
On July 12, 2023, the Aldossari family learned that the Saudi prosecutor’s office referred the case of the five detained family members to the country’s Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), the family told the three organizations. In recent years, the SCC has doled out extraordinarily harsh sentences to human rights defenders and dissidents amid a renewed crackdown on dissent.
According to the Aldossari family, Saudi authorities have prevented the family’s lawyers from meeting with the detainees, while the public prosecutor has refused to respond to the lawyers’ requests for information or to give them copies of any case-related documents. The family and lawyers do not yet know the charges against the five.
Nader Aldossari, Rakan’s father, confirmed to the organizations that interrogators have made it clear to detained family members that they will not be released unless both Rakan and he return to Saudi Arabia, where they face arrest and prosecution in retaliation to their lawsuit, although they are not aware of any charges against them. They left Saudi Arabia in June 2021.
The Aldossari family has had a long-standing commercial dispute with Saudi authorities. It filed a lawsuit against former Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and others in the federal district Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on June 29, 2020.
The lawsuit alleges breach of contract by MBN and two other parties to an agreement between four partners in 1994.
The family amended its lawsuit on October 2, 2020, to name additional Saudi government defendants, including the newly appointed Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.
A federal appellate court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the suit for lack of jurisdiction, but the punishment of the Aldossari family continues.
“In a gross abuse of authority, the Saudi regime is turning a private, commercial dispute into a basis for unjust detention,” said Andrea Prasow, Executive Director for the Freedom Initiative. “It strains imagination to come up with a better example of Saudi Arabia’s farcical judiciary than to see its government prosecute a 55-year-old grandmother on terrorism charges because her grandson filed a commercial lawsuit in the U.S.”
Despite numerous outreach efforts, the Biden administration has not met with the Aldossaris or provided any indication it is willing to intervene on the family’s behalf.
Nader Aldossari, Rakan’s father, previously sent letters to President Biden, the National Security Council, and Secretary Blinken on February 10, 2021, requesting their intervention after the Saudi authorities briefly detained both him and Rakan at the Riyadh airport on their way to Washington, D.C. The Saudi authorities released them an hour later and told them they were banned from traveling by orders from the Saudi Royal Court.
“The Biden administration should meet with Rakan Aldossari and his family and ensure they are protected from further Saudi government persecution,” said Julia Legner, Executive Director of ALQST for Human Rights.
On June 9, 2021, Rakan Aldossari recorded and sent an urgent video message through the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh asking President Biden to intervene and protect them from retaliation by Saudi officials. The Embassy replied that they would share the message with the U.S. State Department.
Despite this, no response came from U.S. government agencies, but Mr. Aldossari and Rakan managed to leave Saudi Arabia in June 2021, after contacts informed them of the Saudi government’s plan to target them in retaliation for the lawsuit.
In this regard, we join DAWN, ALQST for Human Rights, and the Freedom Initiative in calling on the Biden administration to demand the release of the Aldossari family members and end their persecution and to impose the Khashoggi Ban on all Saudi officials, including judges and prosecutors, who have been participating in the extraterritorial harassment of Mr. Aldossari’s family.
The Khashoggi Ban is a policy that allows the State Department to impose visa restrictions on individuals who, acting on behalf of a foreign government, are directly engaged in serious, extraterritorial counter-dissident activities.
We further stress that the persecution and repression practiced against the Aldossari family came as part of the Saudi collective punishment policy.