An American national was arrested in Saudi Arabia, tortured and sentenced to 16 years in prison for tweets he sent while in the United States, his son said on Tuesday.
Saad Ibrahim Almadi, a 72-year-old retired project manager who lives in Florida, was arrested last November while visiting family in the kingdom and convicted earlier this month, his son Ibrahim said The Associated Pressconfirming details first reported by Washington Post. Almadi is a citizen of Saudi Arabia and the United States.
There was no immediate comment from Saudi officials.
Deputy State Department spokesman Vedant Patel confirmed Almadi’s detention to reporters in Washington on Tuesday.
“We have consistently and intensely expressed our concerns about the case at a high level of the Saudi government, both through Riyadh and Washington DC channels, and we will continue to do so,” he said. “We raised this with members of the Saudi government just yesterday.”
It appeared to be the latest in a string of recent cases in which Saudis have received lengthy prison sentences for postings critical of the government on social media. Saudi authorities have stepped up their crackdown on dissent following the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has sought to open up and transform the ultra-conservative kingdom but has taken a hard line on any criticism.
A Saudi court recently sentenced a woman to 45 years in prison for allegedly damaging the country through her activities on social media. A Saudi PhD student at Leeds University in England sentenced to 34 years in prison for spreading “rumours” and retweeting dissidentsa case that caused international outrage.
Ibrahim says his father was jailed for 14 “mild tweets” posted on Twitter over the past seven years, mostly criticizing government policies and alleged corruption. He says his father was not an activist but a private citizen who spoke his mind in the US, where freedom of speech is a constitutional right.
President Joe Biden traveled to the oil-rich kingdom in July for a meeting with Prince Mohammed, at which he said he confronted him about human rights. Their meeting – and a widely criticized fist bump – marked a sharp reversal from Biden’s earlier vow to make the kingdom an “outcast” over the 2018 killing of a Saudi journalist Washington Post Columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
Ibrahim said his father was sentenced to 16 years in prison on October 3 for supporting terrorism. The father was also accused of failing to report terrorism over tweets Ibrahim posted.
A 16-year travel ban was also imposed on his father. If the sentence is carried out, the 72-year-old would be 87 when released and would not be allowed to return home to the United States unless he reached the age of 104.
Ibrahim said the Saudi authorities had 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 “wrongly imprisoned” American, which would improve his record.
“You manipulated me. They told me to stay calm so they could get him out,” Ibrahim explained of his decision to go public this week. “I am no longer willing to jeopardize the State Department.”