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Saudi Arabia sentences US citizen to 16 years in prison for Twitter activity

October 19, 2022 at 3:07 pm

72-year-old Saad Ibrahim Almadi, a joint Saudi-US citizen [Twitter]

Saudi Arabia has sentenced an elderly US citizen to 16 years in prison over Twitter activity critical of the government, making him the latest American to be detained and sentenced by the Kingdom.

72-year-old Saad Ibrahim Almadi, a joint Saudi-US citizen, was initially arrested in November 2021 upon landing in Riyadh for a two-week visit and has now been given a sentence of 16 years in prison on charges of harbouring terrorist ideologies, supporting and funding terrorism and trying to destabilise the Kingdom, all of which he denies.

Almadi’s sentence was followed by a 16-year travel ban, which means he would be 104 years old before he can return to the US. His son, Ibrahim Almadi, has claimed that Saudi authorities have tortured his father, and that Washington has mishandled the case throughout his detention.

The family finally went public with the case, after growing increasingly frustrated at the US embassy’s lack of action, especially as no one from the embassy visited Almadi until six months after his arrest, and no officials attended his sentencing, despite being notified of the hearing.

The US even failed to designate the case as that of an American citizen being “wrongfully detained”, which would have given it a higher priority. Prior to the Almadi family’s revelation of their father’s detention and sentencing, the US State Department also advised them not to speak out and go public.

READ: New report uncovers Saudi repression of US citizens

Speaking to The Washington Post, Ibrahim Almadi said his father “had what I would call mild opinions about the government”. His posts reportedly included some criticism of corruption and poverty within Saudi Arabia, as well as references to the murder of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed by a Saudi hit squad in the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

“They [Saudi authorities] took him from the airport. I feel empty inside. I feel dead inside. I feel betrayed. He’s not only my father, he’s my best friend. He is everything to me,” Ibrahim stated.

The lack of action by the US government and embassy over the case, according to Ibrahim, displays double standards over Saudi Arabia, as Washington would take firm action if someone was detained in Russia or Iran. “But if you’re held in Saudi Arabia, a barrel of oil is worth more than you,” he said.

According to the founder and director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs – Ali Al-Ahmed – who spoke to the paper, “The [President Joe] Biden White House’s inaction on American hostages in Saudi prisons led to the harshest sentence against an American abroad.”

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been increasingly detaining anyone who expresses any form of dissent or opposition to its policies, even targeting citizens of western countries or students studying in western institutions.

Relatives of those detained in Saudi Arabia and Egypt called on the US government and President Biden to help secure the detainees’ release, especially prior to Biden’s trip to the Kingdom in July. They had reportedly been neglected, however, as the relatives were not invited to take part in a phone call with US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, who spoke to the families of citizens detained in other countries.

READ: Saudi ‘snitching’ app may have caused arrest of Saudi mother, amid rising digital authoritarianism