The United States said on Tuesday that it was discussing with Saudi Arabia a prison sentence imposed on a US citizen over tweets critical of the country, further escalating tensions between the old allies. The State Department confirmed the detention of Saad Ibrahim Almadi, a US citizen of Saudi origin, and noted that the US raised his case just last Monday.
According to Almadi’s son Ibrahim, who confirmed the story to AFP, Almadi was sentenced to 16 years in prison for the tweets. “We have regularly and vehemently expressed our concerns about the subject at senior levels of the Saudi government, both in Riyadh and in Washington,” State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel said.
“Free expression should never be criminalized,” he stated. Almadi, who lives in Florida and was visiting family at the time, was detained at the airport in November for 14 tweets he had made in the previous seven years, according to the Washington Post.
Almadi, 72, was sentenced to 16 years in prison and a 16-year travel ban on October 3, according to his son Ibrahim.
The son told the newspaper that his father’s tweets criticizing Saudi corruption and the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the US-based columnist who was dismembered in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate in 2018 after being lured in, was “moderate.”
According to his son, who confirmed the Post’s findings to AFP, Almadi was charged with assisting and funding terrorists, as well as attempting to destabilize the government.
According to the State Department, there was no US representation at the sentence because Saudi Arabia had previously scheduled the hearing for a later date before pushing it up. “We did not receive a response from the Saudi government until after the October 3 deadline,” Patel noted, without elaborating on the decision’s specifics.
Despite the fact that then-President Donald Trump boasted about shielding the powerful crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, from serious penalties, the death of Khashoggi aroused uproar in Washington.
President Joe Biden declassified information showing that the crown prince ordered the assassination and promised to be tougher, including on Saudi Arabia’s deadly offensive in Yemen. Nonetheless, Biden visited Saudi Arabia in July and was pictured fist-bumping with the crown prince as part of a tour aimed at lowering gasoline prices by pumping more oil.
However, on October 5, right before the US midterm elections, OPEC+, led by Saudi Arabia, announced a significant drop in output, aggravating Biden, who warned of the repercussions.
Saudi Arabia’s human rights record has long been criticized. Raif Badawi, a blogger, and human rights activist, was sentenced to ten years in prison in March after being publicly admonished 50 times for claims connected to content on his website.
According to Ibrahim, Saudi officials instructed his family to remain silent about the situation and avoid engaging the US government. He claimed that his father was tortured after the family called the State Department in March.
Ibrahim further accused the State Department of ignoring his father’s situation by not declaring him a “wrongfully detained” American, which would have raised his case. “They cheated me,” Ibrahim revealed last week, defending his decision to go public. “I am no longer willing to put my trust in the Department of State.”
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