Saad Ibrahim Almadi. Photo: Twitter
A 72-year-old US citizen has been sentenced to 16 years in jail by a court in Saudi Arabia for tweets he sent while living in the US.Saad Ibrahim Almadi, who has dual US and Saudi nationality and lives in Florida, was detained in November 2021 after arriving in Riyadh for a family visit.His detention was not publicised until it was first reported in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, but the US State Department has now confirmed details.
“We have consistently and intensively raised our concerns regarding the case at senior levels of the Saudi government,” deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said at a regular briefing.The case is the second known incident of Saudi Arabia jailing people travelling back to the country over historic tweets. Salma al-Shehab, a UK-based PhD student, was jailed for 34 years over a handful of tweets and retweets.Both her and Almadi’s cases were prosecuted by notorious special Saudi courts held behind closed doors, using draconian rules that give a judges liberty to pass long prison sentences and even the death penalty without any relevant mechanisms for appeal or fair trial. The Saudi Arabian judiciary is directly under the authority of the family that runs the Kingdom, and any form of opposition to the royals or the government could be deemed a crime. Terrorism charges are the go-to allegations for the police as these charges automatically limit access to a lawyer and open trial. Twitter is the main social media platform used by millions of people in the country, but the government has promoted apps and accounts like Kulluna Amn – literally “We are all Police” – that urge people to snitch on each other over social media posts, and hashtags including content that contain any form of criticism toward the government.
The country is led by Crown Prince and de facto ruler Mohammed Bin Salman, otherwise known as MBS, who has promised to transform the Kingdom into a powerhouse with flashy projects and campaigns with messages of “progress”. Almadi was charged with “harbouring a terrorist ideology” over a series of tweets sent before 2021 talking about poverty and the notorious killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.Khashoggi’s murder is an extremely sensitive topic for the Saudi government because MBS is accused by US intelligence of ordering the gruesome killing of one of his main critics during his rise to the top of the Saudi government. The 37-year-old has denied any involvement in the murder, despite repeated reports saying he ordered the team of people who drugged, murdered and then dismantled the body of the Washington Post columnist inside the consulate building in early October 2018. Almadi’s conviction comes during another low point in US-Saudi relations over OPEC’s decision to cut oil production, which could affect fuel prices ahead of the US midterms elections.