A US citizen has been sentenced to 16 years in prison in Saudi Arabia for tweeting critical of the Saudi regime, in yet another sign of the kingdom’s aggressive crackdown on any hint of dissent posted on social media.
Saad Ibrahim Almadi, 72, a dual US-Saudi citizen, was arrested in November 2021 when he landed in Riyadh for what was supposed to be a two-week stay in his home country for a work and personal trip.
The case is now the second known incident where a Saudi living abroad has been arrested after their return for using social media.
Salma al-Shehab, a Saudi student living in the UK and attending Leeds University, was sentenced to 34 years in prison for having a Twitter account and following and retweeting dissidents and activists. She was arrested and convicted after returning home for a holiday.
In Almadi’s case, prosecutors focused on 14 tweets the American posted over a seven-year period while living in Florida, including posts that referenced Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist who was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018.
In an interview with The Guardian, Almadi’s son, Ibrahim, said Saudi agents kidnapped his father from the airport and held him in a hotel while they searched his phone, which contained photographs of caricatures of Saudi officials, such as a cartoon of a bloated and bloated person. fat Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi crown prince.
Almadi was held for 11 months without a trial and was eventually sentenced to 16 years in prison followed by 16 years of house arrest. He was convicted of having a terrorist ideology and of trying to destabilize the kingdom. According to his son, US officials have confirmed to the family that Almadi has also been tortured.
Saad Almadi’s story was first reported in a Washington Post column.
His two Twitter accounts show that Saad felt at home in America. Ibrahim said his father was merely exercising his freedom of expression when he published critical tweets. While aware of the Saudi crackdown on dissent, Ibrahim said his father felt comfortable returning to Saudi for a short visit, both because of his American citizenship and because he was part of a tribe that was considered well connected in Saudi society.
“Untouchable. He thought so. But no one is untouchable under MBS. Not even God,” Ibrahim said. “He was trapped.”
Speaking to The Guardian from Florida, Ibrahim expressed intense frustration with the US government’s handling of his father’s case. After months of maintaining his silence – he claims at the behest of the US government – he accused the US of mishandling the crisis. The U.S. government also has not designated Almadi’s case as involving an American who was “wrongfully detained,” a designation that would give the case a higher priority in the U.S. bureaucracy.
“They are waiting for my father to die in prison until they recognize him… then build a statue for him,” he said.
Like the case of Salma al-Shehab, Ibrahim said he believed his father – who had less than 2,000 followers on Twitter – was banned by someone who intercepted his politically sensitive tweets using an app called Kollona Amn or We Are All Security. The app can be downloaded on Apple and Android phones. The companies have previously not responded to questions about their hosting of the app and its apparent use in free speech violations.
Referring to the high poverty rate in Saudi, Ibrahim Almadi said: “People do snitching as a side hustle to collect money on the side. That’s what the government has made its people do.”
The State Department did not immediately return a request for comment.