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Imprisoned Saudi Princesses Give Emotional Plea for Help

Princesses allegedly locked in a Jeddah palace say royal family is starving them, call on world leaders to stop 'gender apartheid.'
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 3/30/2014, 8:36 AM / Last Update: 3/30/2014, 8:46 AM

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah
Reuters

Saudi princesses Sahar, 42, and Jawaher, 38, plead for their freedom over Skype on Friday, confirming to Britain's Channel 4 News that they are being held against their will in a royal compound in Jeddah.

"This is a risk we're taking, we're happy to do it, we understand full well the repercussions, but we don't know what's going to happen," Sahar stated. The women called themselves "hostages" and added they are now being starved after they went public with their story earlier this month

"We have no passports or ID, we are under house arrest, with little food left for ourselves and pets," Sahar, wrote to AFP"On their orders, they have been literally starving us since last Wednesday. We are now living on one meal a day, leaving the little remaining meat for our pets and sipping little water in this heat, to save up. Our energy is quite low and we are trying our best to survive." 

Two other sisters, Maha and Hala, are also being held at the compound. Several pleas have already been made to the United Nations, as well as other world leaders, to intervene for their freedom.

Their mother, Alanoud Alfayez, called on US President Barack Obama to make the issue a priority in meetings in Riyadh last week. 

Alfayez was only 15 years old when she married King Abdullah, who was then in his 40s, according to the Daily Mail. They divorced a little over ten years later. 

Abdullah, who has 38 children by tens of wives, has placed the four imprisoned women under the control of three of their half-brothers, according to Sahar.

Sahar said that the sisters had enjoyed a pampered adolescence but that animosity towards her and her sisters had grown after they began to complain to their father about the poverty endured by most of the Saudi people.

"Mr Obama should take this opportunity to address these grave violations committed against my daughters," said Alfayez, who has lived in London since Abdullah divorced her in 2003. She noted that her ex-husband's treatment of their daughters has worsened lately after 13 years in confinement.

"Since 13 years, my daughters Sahar, Maha, Hala and Jawaher are being held captive," she said. "They need to be saved and released immediately." 

The Saudi embassy responded cryptically to an inquiry by Channel 4, merely saying the matter is "private." The story has caused a media uproar, as Saudi Arabia is a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) - despite being notorious for what one of the princess has termed "gender apartheid." 

Riyadh is well-known for employing religious police whose job is to enforce Islamic Sharia law, and forbidding women from driving in the kingdom. Under law, women cannot travel, conduct business, or undergo certain medical procedures without the permission of male guardians.

A long-standing campaign aimed at getting the Saudi Arabian driving ban lifted has urged women to defy the ban. In past situations where women were caught driving, their male relatives were asked to sign statements saying they would not allow the women to drive again.

Many women have driven since the campaign was launched in 2011, some of them have posted videos of them doing so, and many have been arrested and forced to sign a pledge that they will never drive again.

In what can be viewed as an historical move given its record of abuse of women’s rights, a woman was recently named editor-in-chief of a daily newspaper published in the kingdom, the first time in Saudi Arabia.