U.S. Says Concerned Over 20-Year Sentence for Saudi Aid Worker

The U.S. said it was “concerned” over the sentencing of a Saudi aid worker to 20 years in prison, a public rebuke that’s a sign of the changing attitude toward Saudi Arabia under President Joe Biden.

Abdulrahman Al-Sadhan, 37, was sentenced by a state security court to the jail term to be followed by a two-decade travel ban, according to his sister, Areej Al-Sadhan, who’s an American citizen.

It’s unclear what charges Al-Sadhan faced, but his sister said she believes he was detained over an anonymous Twitter account he operated that was critical of the Saudi government. He’d been held incommunicado for nearly two years, she said.

“We will continue to monitor this case closely throughout any appeals process,” U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. “As we have said to Saudi officials at all levels, freedom of expression should never be a punishable offense.”

The Saudi government’s Center for International Communication didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. Says Concerned Over 20-Year Sentence for Saudi Aid Worker

The Biden administration has taken a tougher stance toward the kingdom after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman enjoyed a particularly friendly relationship with former President Donald Trump.

Biden has said he will press Saudi Arabia harder on issues like the kingdom’s role in the Yemen war and domestic human rights -- a sensitive topic as the prince continues a crackdown on critics that’s snared royal family members, academics, religious clerics and businessmen over the past few years.

Authorities have conditionally released several prominent detainees from prison since Biden took office, including women’s rights activist Loujain Al-Hathloul and dual Saudi-American citizen Salah Al-Haidar. However other online critics, activists and intellectuals charged with security-related offenses remain behind bars, among them Al-Sadhan and Mohammed Al-Rabiah, a supporter of women’s rights activists who was arrested alongside them in 2018.

Al-Rabiah was recently brought to trial and is facing a potential maximum sentence of 25 years in prison for charges that include stirring up public opinion, according to two people familiar with the matter. The Saudi government didn’t respond to a request for comment on his case either.

“No one should be punished this way for exercising freedom of speech,” Areej Al-Sadhan said, calling her brother’s sentence “very brutal and entirely unjust.”

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