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House Speaker Pelosi says US 'closely' monitoring rights abuses in Saudi Arabia

Nancy Pelosi highlighted the fate of Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, an aid worker who was jailed for 20 years in April for allegedly running an anonymous social media account
Sadhan, 37, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by Saudi Arabia’s specialised criminal court in April.
Abdulrahman al-Sadhan was sentenced to 20 years in prison by Saudi Arabia's specialised criminal court in April (Twitter)
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Washington

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Washington was "closely" monitoring human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, in a tweet that highlighted the fate of aid worker Abdulrahman al-Sadhan who was appealing on Wednesday against a 20-year prison sentence for allegedly running an anonymous social media account.

Sadhan, a 37-year-old aid worker with the Red Crescent, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by Saudi Arabia’s specialised criminal court in April, and given an additional 20-year travel ban, following allegations he used a popular parody account to mock the Saudi government.

His arrest is believed to have been connected to the infiltration of Twitter by agents of the Saudi government in 2014 and 2015. The connection was first reported by Bloomberg in 2020.

According to his family, Sadhan looked "exhausted' at Wednesday's hearing which was later adjourned to 13 September.

"The sentencing of humanitarian aid worker Abdulrahman al-Sadhan in April was a grave injustice," said Pelosi.

She added that Sadhan's incarceration was a continuation of "Saudi Arabia's assault on freedom of expression", before pledging that "Congress will closely monitor Abdulrahman's appeal hearing tomorrow, as well as all human rights abuses by the regime".

The House speaker previously spoke out on Sadhan's case when he was sentenced in April, saying his incarceration was "a grave and appalling injustice".

Members of Sadhan's family are residents of San Francisco, California, which Pelosi represents as a member of the House of Representatives.

The Freedom Initiative, an independent human rights group with a focus on political prisoners in the Middle East and North Africa, reiterated its call for Sadhan's "unconditional release and for him to be reunited with his family" in a tweet on Wednesday.

'Illusion of reform a PR drive'

On Tuesday, Amnesty International accused Saudi Arabia of launching a "relentless crackdown" on dissidents after the end of its G20 presidency.

The rights group said executions resumed immediately after the kingdom handed over the presidency of the Group of 20 rich nations to Italy, with nine people executed in December 2020 alone.

Saudi Arabia launched 'relentless crackdown' after G20, Amnesty says
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"The brief respite in repression coinciding with Saudi Arabia's hosting of the G20 summit last November indicates that any illusion of reform was simply a PR drive," said Lynn Maalouf, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.

According to Amnesty, several executions took place following convictions in "grossly unfair trials, marred by claims of torture during pre-trial detention leading to forced 'confessions' which the prosecution systematically failed to investigate".

This included the June 2021 execution of a man for offences which rights groups said he allegedly committed while under the age of 18, although Saudi Arabia has said it has abolished death sentences for many crimes committed by children.

The rights group further called on Saudi Arabia to "unconditionally release all human rights defenders" and urged the United Nations to establish a monitoring mechanism to oversee human rights in the kingdom.

According to data published by the Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), Saudi Arabia is one of the world's worst abusers of human rights.