US citizen imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for 16 years for tweeting against Kingdom
Another source of friction between the longtime allies is a prison term given to a US citizen over tweets critical of the country, which the US said it was raising with Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
Saad Ibrahim Almadi, a US citizen of Saudi origin, is now being held, according to the State Department, which also stated that the US has been raising his case since December and as recently as Monday.
According to his son Ibrahim, Almadi received a 16-year prison term for the tweets.
Vedant Patel, a spokesperson for the State Department, told reporters, "We have consistently and intensively raised our concerns regarding the case at senior levels of the Saudi government, both through channels in Riyadh and Washington."
"Exercising freedom of expression should never be criminalized," he stated.
Almadi, a Florida resident who had flown to see family, was detained in November at the airport as a result of 14 tweets he had posted during the previous seven years, according to The Washington Post.
Ibrahim was quoted in the newspaper as saying that Almadi, 72, was given a 16-year prison sentence on October 3 along with a 16-year travel ban.
The son told the newspaper that his father had only made "mild" remarks in tweets regarding Saudi Arabia's corruption and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a US-based journalist who died in 2018 after being deceived into entering the nation's Istanbul consulate. Jamal Khashoggi's murder was brought up in relation to Saudi Arabia's corruption.
Almadi was accused of attempting to destabilise the monarchy as well as aiding and abetting terrorists, according to his son, who corroborated the Post's allegation to AFP.
The State Department reports that no US representatives were present at the sentence because Saudi Arabia had planned to hold the hearing at a later time before rushing it forward.
Patel continued, "We did not hear back from the Saudi authorities until after the October 3 date," without confirming the facts of the ruling.
Washington was incensed by the murder of Khashoggi, a writer for The Washington Post, even though the powerful crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, had been protected from severe consequences by the previous president, Donald Trump.
After declassifying evidence that showed the crown prince had ordered the execution, President Joe Biden pledged to be harsher, including with Saudi Arabia's disastrous war in Yemen.
However, in July, Biden travelled to Saudi Arabia and was photographed shaking hands with the crown prince. The trip's stated goal was to request Saudi Arabia's help in raising oil output to lower gas prices.
However, OPEC+, led by Saudi Arabia, announced a large drop in production on October 5, just ahead of the US midterm elections. This enraged Biden, who promised to take action.
Saudi Arabia has consistently faced criticism for its human rights record. Blogger and human rights advocate Raif Badawi was given a ten-year prison sentence through March and subjected to 50 public beatings after being accused of publishing inappropriate information on his website.
(With inputs from Agencies)
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