The New York-based rights body said in a report on Tuesday that Omar al-Jaberi, 21, and Sarah al-Jaberi , 20, children of Saad al-Jabri — who has lived in exile in Canada since 2017 — had been detained in March.
Riyadh’s forces also arrested Jabri’s brother in May, the report added.
An informed source told the HRW that Jabri’s family believes the detentions are meant to coerce the father to return to Saudi Arabia.
Jabri was a senior aide to the deposed former crown prince, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, and served as the primary Saudi liaison to Western spy agencies.
Bin Nayef, who was always regarded as the senior royal figure closest to western governments, briefly became heir to the throne but was ousted in a palace coup in 2017.
Fearing for his life, Jabri, who was abroad at the time, decided not to return home.
His children were arrested 10 days after the detention of bin Nayef and another senior prince, Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, a brother of King Salman and an uncle of bin Salman, also known as MbS.
Prior to his detention, bin Nayef had effectively been under house arrest since his ouster in the 2017 coup that brought MbS to power.
“Saudi authorities should immediately inform relatives of Sarah and Omar’s whereabouts and well-being, release them, and end their travel bans,” HRW said on Monday.
“Saudi authorities are sinking to new lows in going after the families of former officials out of favor with the current leadership,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
The official questioned Saudi Arabia’s so-called modernization plan while it is launching a wide arbitrary detention campaign, calling for a full overhaul of the kingdom’s justice system.
“How can anyone describe the Saudi leadership as reformist while it’s arbitrarily detaining the children of former officials?” she asked. “Saudi Arabia’s recent justice reforms have not curbed the authorities’ contempt for the rule of law, showing the country needs a full overhaul of the justice and security sectors.”
The crackdown under bin Salman began in September 2017 with the arrest of dozens of critics and rights activists in what was widely interpreted as an attempt to crush dissent.
Bin Salman has reportedly been putting pressure on Jabri to return to Saudi Arabia.
It comes two years after the young Saudi prince reportedly orchestrated the gruesome assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident journalist who had been critical of bin Salman’s policies before he was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
Jabri, a graduate of artificial intelligence from Scotland, is believed to be very well-informed about Saudi Arabia’s top secrets, including the identities of dissidents killed by bin Salman and the place where they have been buried.
Saudi authorities have accused Jabri of involvement in corruption, saying he has been misusing his position to amass a personal fortune. Bin Salman wants him in the kingdom under the pretext of getting the money back.
Some fear that Jabri could eventually be forced back to Riyadh through Washington’s lobbying given the close ties between bin Salman and the US administration.
That could pose the defector to a similar fate to that of Khashoggi.
The HRW call came days after The New York Times reported that Riyadh was using extreme harassment tactics against relatives of Jabri.