Four Saudi Arabian princesses are being tortured and isolated — all because they dared to speak up for women's rights in a country with an oppressive attitude toward women.
Hala, Jawaher, Maha and Sahar are the daughters of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. And while the king has more than 40 children, these four are locked away, beaten and starved for speaking up for human rights.
"We are hostages," Sahar, the oldest of the four, told the New York Post. "No one can come see us, and we can't go see anyone. Our father is responsible and his sons, our half-brothers, are both culprits in this tragedy."
The sisters were once treated like the royalty they are – fancy clothes, expensive jewelry and the "freedom" to go where they pleased on the king’s $740 million, 85-acre compound.
“They once had a normal life for Saudi Arabia, but they are free thinkers, and their father hates that,” the women's mother, Alanoud Al Fayez, told the Post. “They are compassionate about the plight of women in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Arab world. The injustices that we see are terrible, and someone must say something.”
Al Fayez herself was abused by the king for not producing sons. She eventually fled the country for London (her daughters had already been locked away and their passports revoked), thinking she would be able to convince the king to release the sisters to keep her from going public with the abuse.
But that didn’t happen.
“They had felt some oppression before I left, but when he found that I had gone, he vowed that he would kill the girls, slowly,” Al Fayez said. “At one point, he tried to get me to come back, saying that he would take away the divorce and release them, but that wasn’t true and I know that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t trust that.”
Instead, the king kept the women in small rooms without heat and barely any food. The girls believe they are being drugged.
Electricity and water work intermittently in the women's confined spaces, and their rooms are infested with pests.
"My father said that after his death, our brothers would continue to detain us and abuse us," Sahar said.
Women are prohibited from driving in Saudi Arabia and must have a male guardian, usually a father, husband, brother or even son. Women cannot travel or go to school or have certain surgeries unless their male guardian allows.
King Abdullah is seen as a relative liberal in the desert kingdom, which is run strictly by Islamic law. He gave women the right to vote and run in local elections in 2011. He also lets one of his other daughters, Princess Adila, speak on his behalf. And he appointed Princess Aliya to head a social service program in Jeddah.
Small gains, but the king’s treatment of the four sisters over their beliefs shows just how far the country is from ending the human rights abuses that women suffer.