An exiled Saudi prince has launched an opposition movement calling for regime change back home, and has vowed to protect critics fleeing Saudi Arabia, after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by officials last year.
Prince Khaled bin Farhan al-Saud, who escaped Saudi Arabia himself over a decade ago, told The Independent he wants to see a constitutional monarchy in place, with elections to appoint a prime minister and cabinet, in order to fight what he called endemic human rights abuses and injustice in the country.
The Germany-based exile hopes the opposition group, dubbed “the Freedom Movement of Arabian Peninsula People”, will provide those fleeing Saudi Arabia with lawyers, specialist translators and access to the media to help them seek asylum in Europe.
The idea was formed amid an apparent crackdown on regime critics after Saudi officials murdered Khashoggi in the country’s consulate in Istanbul in October. Some Turkish and US intelligence officials, as well as US lawmakers, believe the killing could only have been ordered by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The Saudi authorities, who launched an investigation, have repeatedly denied the prince’s involvement and instead have said rogue Saudi officials were behind the gruesome death.
“We need a new system in Saudi Arabia like other democracies, where the people have the right to elect a government, to create a new Saudi Arabia,” the 41-year-old Prince Khaled told The Independent.
“We have a vision for the judicial system, for human rights and accountability, but right now we need to focus on the constitution and on activism to help Saudis in Europe.”
He said the royal family, the House of Saud, would remain the diplomatic and symbolic heads of the country, much like the queen is in the UK, but power would ultimately be held by the people.
The idea was also inspired by the plight of Saudi citizen Rahaf al-Qunun, 19, who was forced to barricade herself in an airport toilet in Bangkok in January while trying to flee her allegedly abusive family on a trip to Kuwait.
She was finally granted asylum by Canada but only after attracting global attention by tweeting about her plight when the Thai immigration police refused her entry to the country.
Prince Khaled, who has lived in exile in Germany since 2007, said the group will offer legal and other types of support to citizens, so they do not have to rely on social media.
“I had to leave Saudi in 2007 when I was warned there was an order for my arrest because I was critical of the state,” he told The Independent.
“I felt this suffering myself. I want to help others who faced the same problems as me. When you make calls against the government you need help,” he added.
The royal rebel is part of a wing of the royal family that has clashed with Mohammed bin Salman. He said his own father and sister remain under house arrest in the country.
Prince Khaled had previously revealed to The Independent that he believes the Saudi authorities had planned to kidnap him just 10 days before Khashoggi disappeared in October.
In eerily similar circumstances, the prince, whose mother is Egyptian, claimed he was promised a “large cheque” and millions of dollars if he agreed to fly to Egypt to meet regime officials at the Saudi consulate in Cairo.
The prince refused, believing it to be a ruse to lure him back to Saudi Arabia, as part of an escalating crackdown orchestrated by Mohammed bin Salman to silence his critics.
Saudi Arabia, under the de facto leadership of Mohammed bin Salman, has faced mounting international criticism for its rights record amid accusations it had repeatedly drugged and extradited regime critics, including princes, back to the country. In January a group of British MPs called for access to a group of a dozen women’s rights activists who were arrested and reportedly tortured. They remain in captivity.
This is despite the fact that Mohammed bin Salman has launched a high profile reform drive, including scrapping a controversial driving ban on female citizens.
Apart from pushing for regime change in Saudi Arabia, Prince Khaled aims to support citizens who have fled injustice, torture and harm in Saudi Arabia, by helping them seek asylum in Germany and other European countries.
He has now teamed up with Saudi activists across Europe and enlisted the support of immigration lawyers and translators in Germany to create the network.
It also hopes to cooperate with international media to highlight alleged attacks against Saudi citizens and will establish a commission to lobby for the release of those unjustly arrested within Saudi Arabia.
“I am so far the only royal family member in this movement but I hope others will join me. Jamal Khashoggi is one of thousands of citizens who have been killed unjustly. We want to rise up against his injustice to save the country from collapse,” he added.
Prominent Saudi regime critic Abdul-Aziz Amoud, who has been based in Dublin since 2014, joined the movement after setting up an initiative in Ireland to protect vulnerable Saudi women fleeing abusive families in the country, where they are subject to controlling male guardianship laws.
“The most important role of Saudi opposition outside of the country is to help others. And one of the most effective ways to make changes is through international pressure and helping asylum seekers,” he told The Independent.
“Women in particular are super-vulnerable. The Saudi authorities have repeatedly used their embassies to work against people, even in the case of domestic issues like Rahaf.”
Essen-based legal translator Dr Abdel-Salam Ismail is among those who will be a part of the team helping Saudis seek asylum.
“Khaled has taken a very important step to break with the royal family in order to restore democratic freedom to the people of Saudi Arabia,” he told The Independent.
“We will not only be engaging lawyers who are specialised in asylum cases but employing people to take care of things like bringing family members over and integration including applying for schools,” Dr Ismail said.
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