The United States is concerned about reports on the sentencing of a Saudi aid worker by a counterterrorism court and is watching the case closely, Reuters reported the State Department saying today.
The aid worker, Abdulrahman Al-Sadhan, who was detained by Saudi authorities in March 2018, was reportedly sentenced to 20 years in prison followed by a 20-year travel ban, according to a statement from State Department spokesman Ned Price.
“We will continue to monitor this case closely throughout any appeals process. As we have said to Saudi officials at all levels, freedom of expression should never be a punishable offense,” he said.
The Saudi government media office CIC did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Al-Sadhan was arrested on 12 March 2018, from the Red Crescent Society offices in the capital Riyadh, where he worked.
His sister Areej, a US citizen who has been advocating for his release, has said he was detained without a warrant or charges against him. Rights groups say he was seized after his anonymous Twitter account was breached.
“No words can describe how I feel! This BRUTAL & UNJUST ruling is just a reminder of the horrible situation the Saudi ppl are in,” Areej Al-Sadhan tweeted after yesterday’s court session.
Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) has moved to crush dissent while introducing social and economic reforms to modernise the kingdom. Saudi authorities have detained senior royals, activists, intellectuals, and clerics.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has urged Riyadh to release political prisoners. Saudi officials deny there are any political prisoners in the kingdom.
Diplomats have said Riyadh appeared to be acting to address potential friction with the Biden administration, which in February released an intelligence report implicating MBS in the 2018 murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The prince denies any involvement.
Last month, women’s rights activist Loujain Al-Hathloul was released after nearly three years in prison, having served half of her custodial sentence.
Two Saudi activists with US citizens have also been freed on bail pending trials on terrorism-related charges