MBS' crackdown: KSA increases US citizen’s tweet sentence to 19 years
When looking at Saudi Arabia today, you must keep two things in mind at the same time: one, MBS has marketed a social and economic change, and second, he has made the country more repressive than it has ever been.
In yet another example of the Kingdom's aggressive crackdown on any hint of dissent posted on social media, a Saudi appeals court has increased the prison sentence of a US citizen for criticizing the Saudi regime in a tweet.
The US State Department informed Ibrahim Almadi of the new Saudi penalty on Wednesday, months after the White House publicly decried the abuse of his father, Saad Almadi.
“It’s not a slap in the face, it’s a middle finger,” Ibrahim said as quoted by The Post, noting that his father has “lost more than 80 pounds” since his arrest in November 2021 on charges linked to tweets mildly critical of the Saudi government.
“When the US asked for an appeal, they said, ‘Here you go, 19 years!’” his son stated.
Almadi has been held in horrible conditions without a bed or chair since his arrest, sometimes alongside dangerous suspected terrorists, according to his son.
Almadi's situation has come up several times during White House briefings, though Biden has not remarked on it personally.
“The Saudi government understands the priority we attach to resolving this matter. Exercising the freedom of expression should never be criminalized,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre claimed on Oct. 19.
The State Department, however, has declined to officially label Almadi as "wrongfully detained", a bureaucratic term intended to put pressure on international leaders.
The punitive resentencing drew new bipartisan criticism of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's regime. Bin Salman, abbreviated MBS, is Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler and has undertaken a ruthless assault on dissent, including the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Conservative House Foreign Affairs Committee member Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) acknowledged Saudi efforts, led by MBS, to create a "more and more westernized" image of the Kingdom.
“I would hope that the crown prince and folks would look at that and see that that’s just something they shouldn’t be doing,” Jackson said as quoted by The Post.
“We don’t do that here, obviously, and we don’t want to see that happen to folks in other parts of the world as well. We want everybody to have free speech everywhere,” stressed Jackson, a former physician to Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
"Biden should do more"
Left-wing Rep. Ilhan Omar, who was removed from Foreign Affairs last week due to her outspoken criticism of "Israel", said as quoted by The Post that "Biden should do more to win Almadi’s release."
“It is atrocious that the sensitivities of the royal family and the regime have led to severe limitations and crackdowns on basic civil liberties like the freedom of speech,” Omar said.
Biden “promised to make MBS a pariah and he hasn’t followed through and I’ve pushed the administration, Secretary [of State Antony] Blinken and others, to take a hard line on some of these gross human rights violations,” Omar said.
On her account, she shared Ibrahim Almadi’s disappointment with the State Department’s decision not to declare his father “wrongfully detained".
“I think that it’s atrocious and unbecoming, I would say, of an administration, of a country, that stands for the freedom of speech, that has it enshrined in its Constitution, that stands for upholding human rights. It’s atrocious,” she said.
Almadi claims that other State Department officials privately agreed that his father should be considered illegally held, but that Blinken must make the decision.
“The only way for my father to get out is through ‘wrongful detention’ … that’s how [WNBA star] Brittney Griner got out …. that’s what works with dictators,” Ibrahim Almadi said. “Using a carrot doesn’t work with MBS, he only works with a stick.”
Biden "sold my day for oil"
The younger Almadi earlier accused Biden of "selling" his father for oil after the President failed to publicly press the Crown Prince on the subject during a July meeting — and indicated Trump would have already gained his release if he had done so.
“I want to see [Biden] give some recognition to my father,” Ibrahim said.
It is worth noting that the State Department confessed it neglected to send someone to his original 16-year, 3-month sentence hearing on Oct. 3, which was tied to 14 tweets and his alleged failure to disclose his son's comparable online criticism.
In October, the Saudi Kingdom sentenced an American citizen to 16 years in prison for criticizing the Saudi regime in a tweet, in yet another example of the Kingdom's aggressive crackdown on any hint of dissent posted on social media.
Saad Ibrahim Almadi, 72, a dual US-Saudi national, was detained in Riyadh in November 2021 after arriving for a two-week work and personal trip in his own country.
This is not an isolated case of a Saudi citizen residing overseas being detained upon their return for using social media.
Read next: Under façade of freedom, MBS leads new era of political repression