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Saudi’s MBS sued in US over jailed activist

May 17, 2023 at 2:10 pm

Mohammed Bin Salman, Prime Minister and Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia [Royal Court of Saudi Arabia/Anadolu Agency]

A lawsuit has been filed in the US against senior officials in Saudi Arabia including Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Saeed Al-Qahtani, a former top aide who was implicated in the 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Social media giant, Twitter, has also been named in the lawsuit filed by Areej Al-Sadhan today. Al-Sadhan is the sister of imprisoned Saudi human rights activist Abdulrahman Al-Sadhan, who was forcibly disappeared – and then later sentenced to 20 years in jail.

The case, filed in the Northern District of California, accuses Twitter of becoming a “participant tool” in a campaign of transnational repression by Saudi authorities as part of the company’s effort to monetise its relationship with the kingdom. Saudi Arabia is Twitter’s second-largest investor, after Elon Musk. Details related to the case however took place before Musk’s acquisition of Twitter.

“Each member of the Saudi Criminal Enterprise participated in a conspiracy to chill anti-authoritarian advocacy by, among other conduct, unlawfully obtaining personal identifying information of political dissidents to identify and target them and kidnapping, torturing, stalking, harassing, threatening, and killing other political dissidents,” the lawsuit says. “Twitter became a participant tool of transnational repression to silence voices of dissent beyond Saudi Arabia’s borders in the United States and abroad, all in an effort to monetize its commercial relationship with Defendant KSA.”

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The case builds on the conviction last year of a former Twitter employee, Ahmad Abouammo. The dual US-Lebanese citizen was given a three-and-a-half-year prison sentence in December after being found guilty of spying for Saudi Arabia by using the social media platform to pass on personal information of dissidents to a close aide of the crown prince.

Twitter’s two other Saudi employees – Ali Alzabarah and Ahmed Almutairi, who are now wanted by the FBI and are believed to be living in Saudi Arabia, were also named in the lawsuit. Both are said to be linked to spying for Saudi Arabia and illegally obtaining confidential user data.

Abdulrahman Al-Sadhan’s arrest raised questions about how personal details of the former Red Crescent worker were leaked to allow for his arrest by Saudi authorities. Al-Sadhan’s tweets critical of the Saudi government were published using an anonymous account which he ran from the US. Saudi spies named in the lawsuit are thought to have provided the personal data to Riyadh to make the arrest.

Information submitted to Saudi authorities included the names, birthdates, device identifiers, phone numbers, IP addresses and IP session histories of anonymous users, including Al-Sadhan. Since his arrest in 2018, the 40-year old is reported to have been tortured.

According to the Guardian several cases have emerged over the last 12 months showing that several Saudis who previously lived abroad and then returned home have faced draconian decades-long jail sentences for charges that include using Twitter and following or liking Tweets by Saudi dissidents.

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