US confirms Saudi sentencing of American over tweets

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.

Almadi was sentenced to 16 years in prison over the tweets, his son Ibrahim confirmed to AFP.

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

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

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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 72-year-old Almadi was sentenced to 16 years in prison with a travel ban of another 16 years on October 3, the newspaper said, citing his son Ibrahim.

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

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Almadi has been partially accused of supporting and financing terrorism and trying to destabilize the kingdom, said his son, who confirmed the Post’s coverage to AFP.

The State Department said no US official was present for the sentencing because Saudi Arabia originally announced a later date for the hearing before it was postponed.

“We only received feedback on the sentencing from the Saudi government after October 3,” Patel said, without confirming the details of the decision.

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.

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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.

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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