A jury in California has convicted a former Twitter employee of spying for Saudi Arabia by providing the kingdom private information about Saudi dissidents. Prosecutors accused the man, Ahmad Abouammo, of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from a close aide of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in exchange for information about 6,000 Twitter accounts. One of the accounts belonged to the Saudi aid worker Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, who ran an anonymous satirical account critical of the Saudi kingdom. Four years ago, he was abducted by the secret Saudi police, tortured, and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The jury’s decision comes just weeks after President Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two men greeted each other with a fist bump.
In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! Abdulrahman al-Sadhan’s sister, Areej al-Sadhan talked about what happened to her brother and how this relates to this jury finding this Twitter worker guilty of providing information about Twitter users to Saudi Arabia.
Speaking at the interview, Areej al-Sadhan said:
When I first heard the verdict, I couldn’t help but think about the suffering that my brother have gone through all these years, and the suffering of my family and the many other families who are a victim of this hacking.
So, four years ago — more than four years ago, my brother was kidnapped from his work at the Red Cross in Riyadh and disappeared for years and deprived of any communication or even access to legal counsel. During his disappearance, he was brutally tortured with electric shocks, beatings, sleep deprivation. They broke his hand and smashed his fingers, saying, “This is the hand you tweet with.” My brother ended up in the intensive care unit for days, for almost a week, fighting for his life, as a result of the torture.
And only after three years of disappearance and held without any charge, he was brought to a secret sham trial, where he got sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, followed by 20 years travel ban, for running a satirical Twitter account. That same Twitter account was part of the Saudi government list of Twitter accounts that they wanted to hack.
And as we’ve seen from this case, this verdict, it represents a step forward towards accountability. But yet, still it’s not justice, because my brother is still disappeared. We have no communication whatsoever with my brother at all. We’ve been deprived completely from any communication with my brother. He’s been held in solitary confinement for years, deprived of any contact with us at all.
I’ve been in contact with the U.S. officials continuously about my brother’s case. The recent visit of President Biden to Saudi Arabia — unfortunately, there haven’t been any improvement to human rights. My brother continues to be disappeared. We haven’t been able to communicate with him at all. And instead from President Biden promising to improve human rights and make human rights the center of his foreign policy, instead he rewarded MBS with a fist bump, basically validating MBS on the world stage, emboldening MBS to commit more human rights abuses against our families, our loved ones and against many innocent people. It is really terrifying for us and many other victims out there of this brutal regime. And unfortunately, so far we haven’t heard any news or any update about my brother’s case. He continues to be disappeared. We have no communication whatsoever with my brother.
Abouammo is only the symptom, the symptom of a much bigger problem. The targeting of activists and anyone who is at all speaking up or doing any human rights activism is very risky from — you know, the Saudi government will target anyone and will use any mean they can. As we’ve seen, they’ve used a U.S. company here, based in the U.S., to target activists in the U.S. and also in other places around the world. Part of that, they will go to lengths to kidnap people, even murder people, to silence them.
So, the risks are really high. And as even me, personally, for speaking up, I get targeted and harassed continuously online by Saudi agents, who are trying to silence me, so I don’t speak about the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.
Abdul Rahman Al-Sadhan was detained by Saudi Arabia in March 2018 at the Red Crescent Society’s office in Riyadh without a warrant or charges against him.
Rights sources affirmed that he was detained after his anonymous Twitter account was hacked.
Al-Sadhan was taken to trial for running two satirical Twitter accounts and accused the aid worker of funding terrorism, supporting or sympathizing with the Islamic State group.
In October 2021, an appeals court in Saudi Arabia upheld a lengthy prison sentence for the aid worker, sentenced in April 2021 to 20 years in jail by a counter-terrorism court in Riyadh.
The appeal court issued to keep the initial ruling of the 20 years imprisonment followed by 20 years travel ban.
Therefore, we call on the international community to take immediate actions to improve the Saudi poor human rights record, to ensure the release of all human rights defenders and activists from prison in Saudi Arabia, to end the forced disappearance of dozens of others, and to investigate torture claims by political prisoners and hold those responsible accountable.
We also stress the need to shed light on Saudi human rights violations, mainly Abdul Rahman Al-Sadhan’s case.