DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – An American citizen was arrested in Saudi Arabia, tortured and sentenced to 16 years in prison for tweets he sent to the United States, his son said Tuesday.
Saad Ibrahim Almadi, a 72-year-old retired project manager living in Florida, was arrested last November while visiting his family in the kingdom and was sentenced earlier this month, his son Ibrahim told The Associated Press. confirming the details that were first reported by the Washington Post. Almadi is a citizen of both Saudi Arabia and the United States
There were no immediate comments from Saudi officials.
State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel, speaking to reporters in Washington, confirmed Almadi’s detention on Tuesday.
“We have constantly and intensively raised our concerns about the case to the highest levels of the Saudi government, both through the Riyadh and Washington DC channels and will continue to do so,” he said. “We talked about it with members of the Saudi government until yesterday.”
It appeared to be the latest in a series of recent cases in which Saudis received lengthy prison sentences for social media posts critical of the government.
Saudi authorities have stepped up the crackdown on dissent following the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is seeking to open and transform the ultra-conservative kingdom, but has taken a hard line against any criticism.
A Saudi court recently sentenced a woman to 45 years in prison for allegedly harming the country through her social media activity. A Saudi doctoral student at the University of Leeds in England was sentenced to 34 years for spreading “rumors” and retweeting dissidents, a case that sparked international outrage.
Ibrahim says his father has been arrested for more than 14 “mild tweets” posted on Twitter in the past seven years, mostly criticizing government policies and alleged corruption. He says that his father was not an activist but a private citizen who expressed his opinion of him while he was in the United States, where free speech is a constitutional right.
President Joe Biden traveled to the oil-rich kingdom in July for a meeting with Prince Mohammed, in which he claimed to have confronted him on human rights. Their meeting – and a widely criticized iron fist – marked a sharp turn from Biden’s previous vote to make the kingdom a “pariah” for the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Ibrahim said his father was sentenced to 16 years in prison on October 3 on charges of supporting terrorism. The father was also accused of not reporting terrorism, for the tweets that Ibrahim had posted.
His father was also slapped with a 16-year travel ban. If the sentence were carried out, the 72-year-old would be 87 at the time of his release and would be prevented from returning home to the United States unless he reaches the age of 104.
Ibrahim said Saudi authorities warned his family to keep quiet about the case and not to involve the US government. He said his father was tortured after the family contacted the State Department in March.
Ibrahim also accused the State Department of neglecting his father’s case by not declaring him an “unjustly detained” American, which would have raised his file.
“They manipulated me. They told me to shut up so they can get it out, “Ibrahim said, explaining his decision to go public this week.” I’m no longer willing to bet on the State Department.