US citizen Saad Almadi, who was first arrested in late 2021 in Saudi Arabia over a series of tweets he had sent that were critical of the regime, saw his 16-year prison sentence extended to 19 years after the US government appealed his conviction, the New York Post reported Wednesday.
Almadi was charged under Saudi Counter-Terrorism and Cybercrime Laws and sentenced for allegedly sending 14 tweets critical of the Saudi government over the course of seven years. Almadi, who lived in Florida and has been in the US since the 1970s, has seen his health deteriorate since the arrest, with his son telling the Post that Almadi has lost over 80 pounds since his incarceration.
After a US State Department appeal of his sentence, the Saudi government opted instead to extend his sentence by an additional three years – a decision Almadi’s son called “not a slap in the face, (but) a middle finger.”
US-Saudi relations in the Biden administration
US President Joe Biden vowed to take a harsher stance against Saudi Arabia than his predecessor Donald Trump, who faced criticism for not confronting Saudi Arabia regarding the 2018 assassination of US citizen and journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi embassy in Turkey.
Biden met with Saudi Crown Prince MBS in July to attempt a reset of relations. However, tensions have remained rocky – especially after an OPEC+ decision to cut oil production in October, a decision Biden responded to by declaring he would re-evaluate the US relationship with Saudi Arabia.
The decision to extend the sentence after the US Government’s appeal appears to be the latest row amid rising tensions.
“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 said in October around the time of his original sentencing.
“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,” Ilhan Omar told the Post.
Omar added that Biden “promised to make MBS a pariah” during his administration – a promise Omar says he hasn’t followed through on.
“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… 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,” Omar declared.