x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Man goes 'missing' from Saudi jail

A Bahraini man held without trial in Saudi Arabia since 2003 on suspicion of links to al Qa'eda has gone "missing."

A picture of Abdulraheem al Murbati is held by his brother, Abdullah. The prisoner's son Osama looks on.
A picture of Abdulraheem al Murbati is held by his brother, Abdullah. The prisoner's son Osama looks on.

Manama // A Bahraini man held without trial in Saudi Arabia since 2003 on suspicion of links to al Qa'eda has gone "missing", according to his family who have not heard from him for nearly a month. Officials from the Bahraini Embassy in Riyadh told the family of Abdulraheem al Murbati, 47, that they have no details of his location following reports he had been transferred to a prison outside the Saudi capital.

Mousa al Nuaimi, the first secretary at the Bahraini Embassy, said he did not know where Murbati was. "He is not missing. It just seems that the authorities had transferred him to a different prison without informing the families," he said. "We had requested a meeting with the ministry of interior officials and as soon as we meet with them we hope to receive details of his whereabouts." The embassy would not reveal any further details about Murbati's case.

The family, which said Murbati had denied all allegations of links to Osama bin Laden's terror network, had contacted the prison where he was allegedly transferred to, but was told that he was not there. "For almost a month now we have been in touch with the embassy and the Riyadh prison after reports that he was transferred to Aseer prison but no one knows where he is," said Murbati's 20-year-old son, Osama.

"We got a call from our embassy asking if we knew where my father is, apparently after their efforts to find him through the official channels failed." Osama Murbati said he was concerned about his father's health after he appeared to have lost weight and was depressed when they last saw him three months ago. "He was being held mostly in solitary confinement since his arrest. He was subjected to physical and mental torture and to this date he is being held with no charges," he said.

Osama Murbati, who has met the Bahraini ministers of interior, foreign affairs and state affairs in the past year with no result, lashed out at the Bahraini government for failing to secure his father's release or helping to return him to Bahrain where he could be held under better conditions. "We [the family] hold the Bahraini and Saudi governments responsible for the safety and well-being of my father now and in the future. In particular we hold the Bahraini government to a higher standard of responsibility because they have not acted at all," Mr Murbati said.

Murbati, the longest serving of nine Bahrainis held in Saudi prisons, was arrested by Saudi officials on April 16 2003 as he took his son for medical treatment. His brother, Essa al Murbati, was one of six Bahrainis held at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay. All six were released with no charges. Last month, Murbati's 76-year-old mother died, but the family withheld the information because they were concerned it would have a negative impact on Murbati.

"We fear if he knows about my grandmother passing away his situation would deteriorate even worse than it was when we saw him last," said Osama. Murbati has six children - three boys and three girls - aged between nine and 24. His brother, Abdullah, said the family had suffered throughout the ordeal. "They are going through emotional and physiological issues as if they were imprisoned like him too. This has been a punishment to the whole family not just for him," he said.

"We have been trying to help and others have stepped in from time to time to help too, but nothing replaces the role of a father. "The children's studies have been affected and their grades had suffered and at times when we try to visit their father the Saudi authorities would deny us access despite having prior permission," he said. "We don't know if he is dead or if he had been tortured to an extent where they had to take him to a hospital and didn't want us to know and all of this is having its toll on the family."

Saudi Arabia has detained thousands of suspected al Qa'eda militants in the past five years after they launched a wave of deadly attacks in the oil-rich kingdom in May 2003. Last week it said it had arrested more than 500 since the beginning of the year. Eight Bahrainis were arrested in Saudi Arabia on Feb 29 this year after they took a wrong turn and approached a restricted military zone. The eight, all Shiites and working as teachers, are still in detention but have not yet been charged.

Prince Nayef bin Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia's minister of interior, said they were still investigating the eight and denied media reports the detainees were being questioned over alleged links to Iran. * The National