A few weeks ahead of President Joe Biden’s planned visit to Saudi Arabia, the US’s Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi met with Saudi activist Areej ASadhan, whose brother the Saudi aid worker Abdul Rahman Al-Sadhan was sentenced to 20 years in prison by Saudi Arabian for anonymous, satirical tweets.
Pelosi expressed support for Al-Sadhan family who has been denied contact with their son, stressing the Congress’ intention to continue advocating for human rights in Saudi Arabia.
“Congress will continue to (…) advocate for freedom of expression and for human rights in Saudi Arabia and around the world,” Pelosi wrote on Twitter after posting a picture with Areej Al-Sadhan.
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.
Well-informed sources affirmed that Al-Sadhan was detained after his anonymous Twitter account was hacked by Saudi special agents, as he was running a satirical Twitter account criticising the Saudi policies.
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.
Nancy Pelosi said last month she was “deeply concerned” about the torture allegations.
Pelosi has advocated for Al-Sadhan since his April sentencing, which she referred to as a “brutal” and “appalling injustice”. The State Department also condemned the sentencing at the time.
In April 2021, US State Department condemned in a statement the prison sentence against Al-Sadhan.
“We are concerned by reports that a Saudi counterterrorism court sentenced Saudi aid worker Abdulrahman al-Sadhan to 20 years in prison followed by a 20-year travel ban”, the statement reads.
“We will continue to monitor this case closely throughout any appeals process. As we have said to Saudi officials at all levels, freedom of expression should never be a punishable offense. We will continue to elevate the role of human rights in our relationship with Saudi Arabia and encourage legal reforms that respect the human rights of all individuals.”
Since his detention, Al-Sadhan had no contact with his family nor access to a lawyer during his trial, which lacked the international standards of fair trial and due process.
He was only allowed to contact his family in two times, the first was after 23 months of his detention and the second was after more than three years of his detention.
Since then, his family has had no news about Al-Sadhan, despite filing a legal objection to the sentence, as well as a complaint about the violations to his rights as a prisoner.
Al-Sadhan’s family had learned he was subjected to severe torture in detention, including “electric shocks, beatings that caused broken bones, flogging, hanging from the feet and suspension in stress-positions, threats of murder and beheading, insults, verbal humiliation”.
As we welcome Mrs. Pelosi’s support for Abdul Rahman Al-Sadhan and Saudis’ freedom of speech right, Together for Justice affirms that these positions are not sufficient to achieve justice in Saudi Arabia. Such positions must be followed with practical steps.
Therefore, we call to put more pressures on the US administration 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 forced disappearance of dozens of others, and to investigate torture claims by political prisoners and hold those responsible accountable.
Ahead of Biden’s planned visit to Saudi Arabia next month, we stress the need to shed light on Saudi human rights violations and to put Abdul Rahman Al-Sadhan’s case at the top of the agenda.