Oct 19, 2022 - Politics & Policy

State Department confirms American imprisoned in Saudi Arabia over tweets

Photo of Antony Blinken walking in the halls of Congress with a folder under his arm

Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives to testify during a Senate committee hearing on June 8, 2021. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images/Pool

The State Department confirmed Tuesday that American citizen Saad Ibrahim Almadi remains imprisoned in Saudi Arabia after he was sentenced to 16 years in prison for posting tweets critical of the Saudi government.

The big picture: The confirmation comes after Almadi's son publicly criticized the State Department for neglecting his 72-year-old father's case, as was first reported by the Washington Post.

Details: Almadi, a project manager from Florida, was detained last November after traveling to Riyadh to visit family. The tweets he was arrested for were posted on his account over the past seven years and largely rebuked the Saudi government's policies and corruption.

  • He faced charges including harboring a terrorist ideology and attempting to destabilize the kingdom, per WashPost.
  • In addition to his 16-year sentence, he was issued a 16-year travel ban preventing him from leaving Saudi Arabia.

What they're saying: State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said at a press briefing Tuesday that the U.S. has "consistently and intensively raised our concerns regarding the case at senior levels of the Saudi government, both through channels in Riyadh and Washington, D.C.," as recently as Monday.

  • "Exercising the freedom of expression should never be criminalized," Patel said.
  • Patel confirmed that no State Department official attended Almadi's sentencing hearing, noting that the Saudi government had moved up the hearing date without notifying the U.S. embassy.
  • The U.S. embassy last had access to Almadi on Aug. 10, according to Patel, who said the State Department is moving through the process to determine whether Almadi will be designated "wrongfully detained."

What we're watching: A State Department spokesperson said in an emailed statement U.S. officials would continue to raise concerns about the case with senior levels of the Saudi government in both Washington and Riyadh.

  • "The Saudi government understands the priority we attach to resolving this matter," the spokesperson added.

Worth noting: If Almadi serves out his whole sentence, including the travel ban, he would have to live to 104 before he could get the chance to return to the U.S.

Go deeper