The son of an American citizen imprisoned in Saudi Arabia for criticizing the Saudi government said Tuesday evening that his father is “nowhere near being a dissident.”
“My father is a senior American citizen who just wants to live freely and happy in the United States where he got his education,” Saad Ibrahim Almadi’s son, Ibrahim Almadi, told CNN’s Erin Burnett on “OutFront.”
The US State Department confirmed earlier Tuesday that 72-year-old Saad Ibrahim Almadi has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia after being given a 16-year sentence for tweets critical of the Saudi government.
Almadi’s imprisonment was first reported by The Washington Post.
Ibrahim Almadi told CNN on Tuesday that if his father had been held in Russia or Iran, “we’d see his name in the headlines every morning.”
State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said at a news briefing that officials have “consistently and intensively raised our concerns regarding the case at senior levels of the Saudi government, both through channels in Riyadh and Washington, DC, as well … as recently as yesterday.”
Patel also confirmed that there was no State Department official at Almadi’s sentencing hearing, which he said was because the Saudi government moved up the hearing date without telling the US embassy and never responded to the embassy’s request to attend the hearing weeks before it was originally scheduled. The last time the US had consular access to Almadi was August 10, according to Patel.
The State Department, he said, is still going through the process to determine whether Almadi will be designated as “wrongfully detained.”
“Exercising the freedom of expression should never be criminalized,” Patel said.
The State Department communicated with the Saudi ambassador in Washington on Monday about Almadi’s case, a US official told CNN.
This headline and story have been updated with additional developments Tuesday.