WASHINGTON – Saudi Arabia has taken into custody an American woman who has been locked in a yearslong struggle to take her young daughter back out of the kingdom over the objections of her Saudi ex-husband, according to U.S. officials and a U.S.-based advocacy group Tuesday.
Carly Morris was summoned to a police station in the north-central city of Buraidah on Monday, and has yet to be released by Saudi authorities, according to the Washington-based Freedom Initiative. The group advocates for people it believes wrongfully detained in the Middle East.
U.S. officials said Saudi authorities had confirmed the detention of Morris, whose efforts to leave the kingdom with her now 8-year-old daughter have been made more difficult by Saudi Arabia's strict male guardianship laws. Morris in recent months had spoken to reporters and tweeted about her circumstances.
“Our embassy in Riyadh is very engaged on this case, and they’re following the situation very closely,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in Washington on Tuesday.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman increasingly has been including U.S. citizens and Western-based Saudis in a general crackdown on those the government sees as rivals or critics.
In August, a Saudi court gave a 16-year prison sentence to a 72-year-old Saudi-American, Saad al Madi, for critical tweets he had posted over the years from his home in Florida.
Morris had traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2019 for what was intended to be a short stay to allow her daughter, also an American citizen, to meet the family of the Saudi father, said Bethany Al-Haidari, Freedom Initiative's Saudi Arabia case manager.
Saudi Arabia's code of male guardianship served to keep the daughter in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia allegedly placed Morris herself under one of its widely imposed travel bans, barring her from leaving the country.
Morris recently tweeted warnings to other women with children abroad about Saudi Arabia, al Haidari said.
President Joe Biden had vowed as a candidate to isolate Prince Mohammed, the kingdom's de facto ruler, over rights abuses. The Biden administration hopes now to persuade the kingdom to pump more oil for the global market, and has worked to close the rift between the two strategic partners.
The American woman's detention was “yet another sign” that Saudi Arabia simply does not value the U.S. as an ally, said Allison McManus, the Freedom Initiative’s Director of Research.