Saudi Arabia intimidating family of imprisoned US doctor in effort to stop son's Washington lobbying

Saudi Arabia intimidating family of imprisoned US doctor in effort to stop son's Washington lobbying
Saudi authorities are trying to intimidate the family of jailed Dr Walid Fitaihi, a dual US-Saudi citizen, into staying silent on his alleged torture, his son Ahmed says.
5 min read
14 March, 2019
Dr Fitaihi was imprisoned by Saudi Arabia during MbS' 'corruption probe' [YouTube]

Family members of a US-Saudi citizen - who has been reportedly tortured in detention in Saudi Arabia - and his son, are now being intimidated by Riyadh authorities following international uproar over the case, media have reported.

Ahmed Fitaihi, son of the detained Dr Walid Fitaihi, told The New York Times that his family is trapped in Saudi Arabia and face intimidation from authorities as he continues to lobby Washington to take action on behalf of his father.

Dr Fitaihi, a leading academic and doctor, was detained by Saudi authorities during crown prince and de-facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman’s so-called "corruption probe" in 2017.

About 200 prominent Saudi figures were held in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh, where they were reportedly tortured. While most of those detained were released after striking financial settlements, Dr Fitaihi remains imprisoned in the kingdom without charge or trial.

Dr Fitaihi's family is now facing intimidation from the Saudi authorities due to his son Ahmed's recent lobbying of the US Congress, Ahmed told The New York Times.

Saudi Arabia had already confiscated the American passports of his mother and six siblings, banned them from leaving the kingdom and frozen their assets, he said.

Dr Fitaihi was dragged to the door of the family’s home in Jeddah, with his legs shackled, by a group of armed soldiers about two weeks ago, his son claimed.

The soldiers ordered Dr Fitaihi to point out every computerised device in the house.

"He told them, 'I don't even remember, I haven’t been here for more than a year,'" Ahmed said.

The search came more than a year after Dr Fitaihi's arrest.

His son says the search, which could easily have been accomplished without Dr Fitaihi's aid, was intended to scare the family out of continuing to draw international attention to the case.

Read more: 'Show trial' of Saudi women activists adjourns without verdict

Ahmed Fitaihi began lobbying in Washington on behalf of his father last month, adding to a bipartisan uproar in Congress over the Trump administration's with Saudi Arabia, which has been ongoing since the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio claimed Mohammad bin Salman, also known as MbS, had "gone full gangster" in a confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Riyadh, John Abizaid.

The hearing was just one site of condemnation of Dr Fitaihi's case from both Democrat and Republican senators.

While the family had initially hoped Dr Fitaihi would be quickly released, Ahmed's recent appeals to the US State Department and Congress have yielded some improvement in his treatment.

Dr Fitaihi had previously only been allowed two visits from US consular officials, but in recent weeks, he has been visited three more times, his son said.

"Now he has a bit bigger cell and some exercise time," Ahmed added.

His son's claims make a dramatic change from allegations that Dr Fitaihi was tortured while imprisoned in the Ritz-Carlton.

When he was allowed a temporary release for a son's surgery in January 2018, Dr Fitaihi told a family member he had been "blindfolded, stripped of his underwear and bound to a chair".

He also said he was whipped so badly he was unable to sleep for days due to the pain and given electric shocks during an hour-long torture session.

Ahmed Fitaihi says neither he nor his father know of any evidence or allegations brought against Dr Fitaihi, who he said was "half his size and very emotional" during his temporary release.

Saudi officials have denied the mistreatment of detainees, but the kingdom has been dogged by allegations of the torture of detained activists.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have claimed that detained women's rights activists are among those who have faced torture and sexual harassment during interrogation.

Loujain al-Hathloul, whose trial began on Wednesday, confirmed those claims during a visit with her parents.

Ahmed Fitaihi will appear on Thursday to discuss allegations of his father's torture during a Washington news conference hosted by Senators Patrick Leahy and Marco Rubio.

Waleed al-Hathloul will also speak at the event to discuss his sister Loujain's treatment by the Saudi authorities.

Although the Fitaihi and Hathloul families have been hopeful that rising international pressure will result in the release of their family members, others are not so sure if the Trump administration will break its cordial relationship with the Saudis.

"Trump has boasted of his prowess at getting unfairly jailed American citizens released elsewhere in the world but is silent about this case. He doesn't want to disturb the relationship he and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have with MbS," Middle East analyst Bill Law told The New Arab.

"If Dr Fitaihi is released he could speak about his mistreatment and that of other Ritz-Carlton detainees. There are credible accounts of torture which implicate MbS' advisor Saud al-Qahtani… [who is] implicated in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. So I am not optimistic about Dr Fitaihi's release.”