A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced a U.S. citizen to 16 years in prison after he criticized the Saudi government on Twitter. His son said the Biden administration has neglected his father’s case.
Saudi-American dual citizen Saad Ibrahim Almadi, 71, was given the lengthy prison sentence on Oct. 3, his son who is also named Ibrahim told the Washington Post on Tuesday. Saudi authorities arrested Almadi in November of last year while he was visiting the country.
According to the Washington Post, Almadi is not an active dissident of the Saudi government. Instead, Almadi is a project manager who lives in Florida and who criticized the Saudi government in 14 different posts Twitter while residing in the U.S.
After traveling to the Saudi capital of Riyadh last year, Almadi was detained over his Twitter posts. One of Almadi’s tweets referred to Jamal Kashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident who was murder in 2018 after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
“He had what I would call mild opinions about the government,” his son Ibrahim said of his father. “They took him from the airport.”
Almadi’s other offending tweets included criticism of Saudi government policies and overall corruption. Ibrahim told the Guardian that Saudi officials also searched his father’s phone and found a cartoon image depicting a bloated and fat Mohammed bin Salman, who is the Saudi crown prince.
Ibrahim said his father has been tortured in Saudi custody.
Ibrahim also accused the U.S. State Department of doing too little to help his father. Ibrahim said no one from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh his father until he had been detained for six months.
Almadi reportedly declined an offer for the U.S. State Department to intervene in his case after the finally reached out in May. Ibrahim told the Washington Post that his father had declined the offer because Saudi jailers torture prisoners who call for the help of foreign governments. In August, Almadi reportedly did request State Department assistance and, according to Ibrahim, he was tortured thereafter.
Around that same time Almadi did request U.S. assistance, Ibrahim also called on the U.S. to designate him as a “wrongfully detained” citizen. That classification would have elevated Almadi’s case to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA), who negotiates the release of Americans detained abroad.
Ibhrahim said his father’s case had been under consideration for the “wrongfully detained citizen” status for the past 11 months but it was never granted. Ibrahim said he asked for someone from the U.S. Embassy to at least come to his father’s sentencing hearing on Oct. 3, but no one ever showed up.
“I told the State Department his hearing was set for October 3 and they should attend,” Ibrahim told the Washington Post. “Afterward, over the phone, they said, ‘Oh, I’m sorry we forgot to tell the embassy. I feel like they are just careless.”
A department official confirmed missing Almadi’s hearing, telling the Washington Post, “Unfortunately, that information wasn’t passed [to the embassy]. That is something we deeply regret.”
The official told the Washington Post that the Biden administration has brought up Almadi’s case in senior-level exchanges with the Saudi government, but noted that Almadi is still not considered “wrongfully detained” at this time.
The Biden administration has recently seen strained relations with the Saudi government over their decision, along with other major oil exporting countries, to cut oil production levels in a move that has spiked gas prices. Last week the Saudi government said President Joe Biden asked them to delay such oil production cuts for a month, which would have delayed the pain at the pump for Americans until after the U.S. midterm elections.
Almadi’s sentencing hearing came around the same time the Biden administration was still hoping to avert the oil production cuts.
Almadi’s case is at least the second incident in which the Saudi government has arrested someone for their social media criticisms while living abroad, the Guardian reported.
Salma al-Shehab, another Saudi national who was attending Leeds University in the United Kingdom, was detained in January of 2021 and his since been sentenced to 34 years in prison after she was found to have followed and shared dissident content on Twitter.