The second wife of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia claims that her four daughters have been held captive for the last 13 years, as punishment for speaking out against restrictions on women in the country.
Alanoud Alfayez and two of her children — Sahar and Jawaher — are now appealing to the UN for help and publicizing their claims on Twitter, which the daughters have access to.
The petition their lawyers sent to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) this month even claims that the daughters have been “systematically drugged” and “forced to take poisonous substances.”
Alfayez, who married King Abdullah when she was 15 years old and is now 59, told VICE News she doesn’t know why her daughters have been confined to house arrest in Jeddah. But interviews with her and one of the princesses suggest that they were too rebellious for the rest of the Saudi royal family.
“I wish I knew why they treated us this way, they [have] completely destroyed my daughters,” Alfayez said. “This is a question someone has to put to him [King Abdullah].”
VICE News requested comment on the allegations from officials at the Saudi Arabian Foreign Affairs Ministry and embassies in London, Washington, and Cairo, but received no response.
According to Alfayez, two of her daughters — Sahar, who is 42 years old, and Jawaher, who is 38 — have been held captive since 2001. She claims that the other two — Maha, who is 41, and Hala, who is 39 — are held in a different compound and require medical treatment. Hala reportedly suffers from anorexia and a psychological condition, but Alfayez would only say that she requires “urgent medical care.”
Alfayez has been estranged from the Saudi royal family since her divorce from King Abdullah, after which she left for London in June 2003 to seek legal help. She has been exiled in the UK, and separated from her daughters, ever since.
When asked why she has waited until now to speak out about her daughters’ captivity, Alfayez replied via Twitter that she tried legal channels and appeals to reason — “after all, he was the father of my children” — but her efforts had no effect. They “can't bury my daughters alive,” she said.
“When you’re divorced, you expect your problems to end, but they didn’t,” she later said by phone. “They did not make any problems for me, I decided it was my choice — I am telling you things nobody knows now.”
While privileged classes in Saudi Arabia enjoy certain freedoms behind closed doors, Alfayez and her daughters were socially isolated from the rest of the royal family. “We were raised differently and our views about human rights and poverty did not suit my family,” Jawaher told VICE News via Twitter. “We were outsiders.”
She said that after her sister Hala graduated from King Saud University with a degree in psychology and began working as a hospital apprentice, she discovered that prisoners of conscience were being illegally admitted into the mental ward as patients. “We have always been vocal to the king about poverty, rights,” Jawaher said, but objections about the psychiatric detentions sealed their fate.
Alfayez said that although they enjoyed lavish surroundings, she and her daughters led a simple lifestyle. “We’re simple people, we’re like everybody else,” she said. “I used to make our daughters make their beds when we traveled.”
Now Alfayez and her daughters are appealing to the international community for help. Their letter to OHCHR contains startling claims that the women are drugged at the compounds.
“I couldn't tell you what the substances are, but when you are always in a daze there must be something wrong,” Jawaher told VICE News. “And when we ask the people who used to help us with the house what was in the food or drink, they would become tongue-tied or even so scared that they would just leave.”
Alfayez has called on the UN to investigate, saying it “could serve as an example for countless women in Saudi Arabia.”
Xabier Celaya of OHCHR confirmed receipt of the letter, and told VICE News that the case was brought to the attention of the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. Celaya added that officials aren't in a position to confirm that any action has yet been taken on the case.
These allegations come at a time of increased scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record. Human Rights Watch recently noted that the country carried out dozens of executions last year, most of them public beheadings. Saudi activists are regularly imprisoned, and women are widely repressed as second-class citizens.
The Saudi monarchy received a seat at the UN Human Rights Council in November. It also announced a donation earlier this month of $1 million to the UN High Commission for Human Rights.
Alfayez’s accusations could put additional pressure on the Saudi regime ahead of the President Obama’s high-level visit to the country later this month.
Follow Daria Solovieva on Twitter: @dariasolo
Photo via Flickr