The U.S. Department of State (DOS) confirmed on Oct. 17 that Saudi-American citizen Saad Ibrahim Almadi has been sentenced to 16 years in prison by Saudi Arabian officials over social media posts he shared while remaining in the United States that were critical of the government.
“We have been following the case closely. We have consistently and intensively raised our concerns regarding the case at senior levels of the Saudi government … and we will continue to do so,” DOS deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said at a news conference on Tuesday, adding that U.S. officials raised the issue with Riyadh “as recently as yesterday.”
Patel noted that Washington first raised its concerns with Riyadh on Almadi’s detention in December 2021, as soon as it was made aware of the arrest.
Almadi, a 72-year-old retired project manager from Florida, was detained in November 2021 after traveling to the oil-rich kingdom to visit family, his son, Ibrahim, told The Associated Press. He was sentenced on Oct. 3 on charges of supporting terrorism.
Ibrahim said his father shared 14 “mild” posts on his personal Twitter account over the past seven years that were mostly critical of the Saudi government’s policies and alleged corruption. He explained that his father was not an activist but a private citizen expressing his opinion while in the United States, where freedom of speech is a constitutional right.
Details on Almadi’s imprisonment were first reported by The Washington Post. The paper reported that Almadi faced charges including harboring a terrorist ideology and attempting to destabilize the kingdom.
“Exercising freedom of expression should never be criminalized,” Patel said at Tuesday’s briefing. The spokesman did not detail what Almadi was charged with.
Patel also confirmed that there was no DOS official at Almadi’s sentencing hearing, noting that Saudi Arabia moved up the hearing date without notifying the U.S. embassy, which last had access to Almadi on Aug. 10.
The DOS is moving through the process to determine whether Almadi will be designated “wrongfully detained,” according to Patel.
Ibrahim has accused the DOS of neglecting his father’s case by not declaring him a “wrongfully detained” American, which would elevate his file.
“They manipulated me. They told me to stay quiet so they can get him out,” Ibrahim said, explaining his decision to go public this week. “I am not willing to take a gamble on the Department of State anymore.”
There has been no immediate comment from Saudi officials.
The news comes as a group of top congressional Democrats are aiming to punish Saudi Arabia after the OPEC+ announcement to cut oil production by taking back U.S. missile systems as well as other missiles and giving them to Ukraine instead.
Saudi Arabia imports a significant amount of its weapons systems from the United States. Between 2009 and 2016, the Obama administration offered the kingdom $115 billion in weapons, training, and other military equipment, according to a Reuters report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.