High-profile Saudi princess who criticised Yemen war goes missing after Europe escape attempt

High-profile Saudi princess who criticised Yemen war goes missing after Europe escape attempt
An outspoken daughter of Saudi Arabia's second king has been put under house arrest after attempting to escape the kingdom, according to a new report.
3 min read
19 November, 2019
Princess Basmah is known for her human rights advocacy work [Getty]
A Saudi princess known for her human rights advocacy work has likely been put under house arrest in Riyadh, German public service broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) reported on Monday.

Princess Basmah bint Saud bin Abdulaziz al-Saud "fell off the radar", according to a source close to the royal, after she attempted to leave the kingdom late last year.

The source said she was due to fly to Geneva at the end of 2018, however her flight never left Saudi soil.

Princess Basma, who is the youngest daughter of Saudi Arabia's second ruler, King Abdul Aziz, has not been seen since then.

"She just fell off the radar; no one knew where she was. We actually feared the worst," Princess Basmah’s former attorney, Leonard Bennett, told DW.

He added that on one occasion, the princess answered a phone call "sounding very much like a hostage". 

Another source who spoke to DW said the princess could not speak freely as all her communications are under surveillance.

The report added that an investigation into the princess' alleged escape attempt had already taken place, however Saudi authorities have kept her in detention without explanation.

"They [Saudi authorities] have done an investigation to see if [the allegations of fleeing were] true and now they have finished it, yet up until now there has been no answer," the DW source said.

"It has been proven to be false information but we still don’t know why she is being detained."


Fifty-five-year-old Princess Basmah developed a reputation as an outspoken member of the Saudi ruling family, particularly through her media work.

The mother-of-five has spoken in favour of constitutional reforms in Saudi Arabia, including by expressing disappointment at Saudi Arabia's failure to transform into a constitutional monarchy.

Princess Basmah's articles on human rights issues regularly featured in the al-Medina, al-Hayat, and al-Ahram newspapers.

In January 2018, Princess Basmah called for an end to Saudi Arabia's military intervention in Yemen during a BBC interview.

Yet despite her public statements about Saudi Arabia, the princess maintained her support for her family and the kingdom.

"I am still an obedient citizen and I will always be behind the royal family. But I will never be quiet about what is happening on the ground," Princess Basmah said in an interview with the Independent in 2012.

"The unfairness of the distribution of wealth, about the power that has been unevenly given to people because they have complete obedience to those above them."

Tightening control

Reports of Princess Basmah's alleged arrest come amid sustained scrutiny of Saudi Arabia over its increasing authoritarianism under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

In 2017, Prince Mohammed led a far-reaching crackdown touted as an anti-corruption drive, arresting scores of influential public figures, businessmen and rival Saudi princes.

Among those arrested and held at Riyadh's Ritz-Carlton hotel was billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who was later released after reportedly reaching a hefty financial settlement with the government.

Prince Mohammed's iron-fisted rule caught the world's attention in October 2017, when Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Khashoggi, a former royal insider-turned-critic of Saudi Prince Mohammed, was brutally killed and dismembered by Saudi agents in what a United Nations expert has termed a "deliberate, premeditated execution".

According to a friend of Princess Basma cited in the DW report, Prince Mohammed likely knows the whereabouts of the missing royal and the conditions of her detention.

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