A US citizen who traveled to Saudi Arabia to visit family reportedly received a 16-year prison sentence for posting tweets critical of the Saudi government. The sentence was imposed on 72-year-old Saad Ibrahim Almadi, according to his son, Ibrahim Almadi.
Ibrahim Almadi spoke to several news organizations about the sentence imposed on his father, who reportedly holds both US and Saudi citizenship and has lived in the US since the 1970s. He alleges that his father was tortured in Saudi prison and that the US State Department mishandled the case. The punishment is due to tweets that expressed “mild opinions about the government,” his son said.
President Biden “sold my father for oil,” Ibrahim Almadi told the New York Post. “Biden just cares about votes. He doesn’t care about my father, he doesn’t care about American citizens.” (Almadi also said he is a Democrat who voted for Biden.)
The tweets that landed Saad Ibrahim Almadi in a Saudi prison were posted while he was inside the US, The Washington Post wrote yesterday. Almadi was detained when he traveled to Riyadh to visit family in November 2021, and was sentenced nearly a year later, on October 3.
No dissident, Almadi is “simply a project manager”
The Washington Post report says:
Almadi is not a dissident or an activist; he is simply a project manager from Florida who decided to practice his right to free speech inside the United States… “He had what I would call mild opinions about the government,” his son Ibrahim told me. “They took him from the airport.”
Almadi was charged with harboring a terrorist ideology, trying to destabilize the kingdom, as well as supporting and funding terrorism. He was also charged with failing to report terrorism, a charge related to tweets Ibrahim sent on a separate account.
Ibrahim Almadi said his father received two visits in prison from US officials, with the first coming six months after his arrest. Almadi also criticized the US response to his father’s imprisonment in an interview with the BBC:
He told the BBC that he believes there are double standards over Saudi Arabia, saying the US would take firm action if a citizen were detained in Russia or Iran. “But if you’re held in Saudi Arabia, a barrel of oil is worth more than you, habibi,” he said.
A source at the US State Department told the BBC when asked about Saad’s case during President Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia that it had no higher duty than protecting US citizens abroad, but that it could not comment further.
Ibrahim Almadi said his father visited Saudi Arabia without thinking about his old Twitter posts. The tweets presented as evidence “included writing that officials were unable to protect national borders amid rocket fire from Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen, encouraging people to get Lebanese citizenship, and endorsing the idea of naming a street after [the murdered journalist Jamal] Khashoggi,” according to the New York Post. The tweets also included “criticism of the demolition of old parts of the cities of Mecca and Jeddah” and “concern over poverty in the kingdom,” the BBC wrote.
US “told Ibrahim not to speak publicly”
Almadi reportedly received both a 16-year prison sentence and a 16-year travel ban to be enforced after release. He’d have to live to age 104 to return to the US if the sentence isn’t reduced.
“I feel empty inside. I feel dead inside. I feel betrayed,” Ibrahim Almadi told The Washington Post. “He’s not only my father, he’s my best friend. He is everything to me.”
Ibrahim Almadi initially worked behind the scenes, urging the US government to intervene. But he’s speaking out now that the sentence has been handed down. “The State Department told Ibrahim not to speak publicly about the case, but he no longer believes that staying quiet will secure his father’s freedom. And he says that State has handled his father’s case with neglect and incompetence,” The Washington Post wrote.
Ibrahim Almadi says he told the State Department the sentencing hearing was scheduled for October 3 but that no US official attended.
“A senior State Department official confirmed that the consular affairs office in Washington failed to alert the embassy when the hearing date was moved up, even though Ibrahim had notified them,” The Washington Post wrote. “‘Unfortunately, that information wasn’t passed [to the embassy],’ the official said. ‘That is something we deeply regret.'”
This official also reportedly said the Biden administration raised Almadi’s case with the Saudi government at senior levels. But the State Department is still determining whether Almadi will be designated as “wrongfully detained,” a designation that could increase US efforts to free him.