A Saudi court’s decision to sentence a humanitarian worker to 20 years in prison for allegedly using a satirical Twitter account to mock the Riyadh government has been linked to the Twitter infiltration by Saudi agents in 2014, in a case that has drawn the attention of senior US officials.
Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, a 37-year-old humanitarian worker from the Red Crescent, was sentenced by Saudi Arabia’s specialized criminal court and imposed an additional 20-year travel ban, following accusations that he used a bank account. Popular parody to poke fun at Saudi Arabia. Government.
The case is significant in part because Sadhan’s arrest in 2018 and subsequent trial, following a lengthy disappearance during which his family did not hear from him, is believed to be linked to infiltration of Twitter by Saudi government agents. in 2014 and 2015. The connection was first reported by Bloomberg in 2019.
The US Department of Justice in 2019 accused three Saudi nationals of illegally accessing private information on “certain” Twitter user accounts and providing information about the accounts to Saudi officials.
Two of the accused Saudis were Twitter employees who the Justice Department alleged used their jobs to access information about Twitter users who were critical of the Saudi government. The two former employees are believed to be in Saudi Arabia and were not detained by the United States.
The private information that was obtained “could have been used to identify and locate” Twitter users who posted posts criticizing the regime, the Justice Department said at the time.
While Twitter has not revealed the identities of the people who were possibly exposed in the alleged violation, a Saudi dissident living in exile told The Guardian that he believed the violation was directly responsible for Sadhan being identified as the possible user. behind the parody account @ sama7ti.
Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi activist living in exile in Canada who had previously been warned that he was a possible target of the Saudi government, said he had been shown a series of accounts exposed after the rape in an interview with the FBI, including an account that has allegedly been used by Sadhan.
“Most of the tweets were critical of the religious elite in Saudi Arabia,” Abdulaziz said. “When I met the FBI they gave me a list and I saw a couple of accounts that had been compromised, including @ sama7ti. I think more than one person has been jailed for this. “
He added: “For us [activists], Twitter is our platform. It is our parliament. We want to have a voice there, but [the Saudis] they’re using their tools, they’re using their experts, just to silence people. They don’t want us to share our opinion. “
A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on specific questions about Sadhan’s case or the account he is accused of using anonymously. The spokesperson said the company had acted quickly to cut off access to “malicious actors” using its user data as soon as it learned of the problem.
“We cooperated closely with the authorities during their investigation, which resulted in several indictments in the United States. Simultaneously, we act to notify and protect affected account holders. We remain committed to protecting the public conversation from abuse by state actors, and we disclose every tweet and account that we can reliably attribute to a nation state in our public archive – the only one of its kind in the industry, ”the spokesperson said.
The FBI declined to comment.
The case has raised concerns in the US State Department, which said it would continue to monitor the case during an expected appeals process.
“As we have told 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 people, ”the state department said.
Sadhan was forcibly disappeared on March 12, 2018 after being abducted from the Saudi Red Crescent headquarters in Riyadh, where he worked. He was not heard from for 23 months, his family said, until he was allowed to make a brief phone call to his family and alert them to his whereabouts. His mother and sister, Areej, are US citizens.
“What they are accusing him is based on tweets. The charges are based on the peaceful use of social media, specifically Twitter, and criticize human rights abuses and social justice issues in Saudi Arabia, ”said Areej al-Sadhan. “At the same time, Khashoggi’s killers are walking free,” he said, referring to the murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
“I can’t even describe the injustice,” he said. When his father in Saudi Arabia saw his brother for the first time, Areej said, he noticed that Abdulrahman’s health had deteriorated and said he had been kept in solitary confinement.
“He wasn’t, you know, the same Abdul that we know. He was obviously tired and cut off from the outside world. It has affected his health, ”said his sister.
For activists, the case has also taken on special political significance, weeks after the Biden administration criticized Saudi Arabia for its poor human rights record. “[Crown Prince] Mohammed bin Salman is sending a message that he doesn’t care, ”said Omar Abdulaziz.
The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism