US confirms Saudi detention of American over tweets

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Washington (AFP) – The United States said on Tuesday it would work with Saudi Arabia to lift a jail sentence imposed on a US citizen for tweeting critical of the king, another source of tensions between the historic allies.

The State Department confirmed the detention of Saad Ibrahim Almadi, a US citizen of Saudi origin, and said the United States had raised his case from December and only on Monday.

“We have consistently and intensely raised our concerns about the case at senior levels of the Saudi government, through channels in both Riyadh and Washington, DC,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

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“Exercising freedom of expression should never be criminalized,” he said.

The Washington Post reported that Almadi, who lives in Florida and has been visiting family, was arrested at the airport in November for 14 tweets he had written over the past seven years.

The newspaper quoted his son as saying that 72-year-old Almadi was sentenced to 16 years in prison on October 3 with a 16-year travel ban.

His son Ibrahim told the newspaper his father offered only “mild” opinions with tweets mentioning corruption in Saudi Arabia and the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, the US-based columnist who was dismembered in 2018 after he had been lured into the Istanbul consulate of the kingdom.

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Almadi has been partially accused of supporting and financing terrorism and trying to destabilize the kingdom, his son said.

The death of Khashoggi, writing for the Washington Post, sparked outrage in Washington, even as then-President Donald Trump boasted about shielding powerful Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman from major repercussions.

President Joe Biden released intelligence showing the crown prince ordered the assassination and vowed tougher action, including Saudi Arabia’s deadly offensive in Yemen.

Biden nevertheless traveled to Saudi Arabia in July and was photographed in a fist bump with the crown prince on a trip seen as seeking the kingdom’s help to lower gas prices by pumping more oil.

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But OPEC+, led by Saudi Arabia, announced a major production cut on Oct. 5 just ahead of the US congressional election, outraged Biden, who promised consequences.

Saudi Arabia has long been criticized for human rights. Blogger and human rights activist Raif Badawi served 10 years in prison through March and was publicly flogged 50 times on charges related to content on his website.

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