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Saudi court hands Saudi-American doctor Walid al-Fitaihi 6-year sentence

The Harvard-trained doctor is reported to have been sentenced over tweeting his support for the 2011 Arab Spring protests and for obtaining US citizenship.

A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced Saudi American Walid Fitaihi to six years in prison, despite calls from the Trump administration for Riyadh to release the Harvard-trained doctor. 

A person close to the family told The Washington Post that Fitaihi was sentenced for tweeting his support of the 2011 Arab Spring protests and for obtaining US citizenship, which he received while a student at George Washington University and Harvard University. He now has 30 days to appeal his sentence, the Post reported.  

Fitaihi was swept up in the Saudi government’s anti-corruption purge in November 2017 that saw hundreds of businessmen, Saudi royals and other perceived government critics detained at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh. Fitaihi was reportedly transferred to a prison after three months; a friend told The New York Times last year Fitaihi was tortured with electric shocks. 

He was released from prison after two years, but Fitaihi and his family members, who are also US citizens, were barred from leaving the country. 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he raised Fitaihi’s case during a meeting with the Saudi foreign minister in Washington in October. Pompeo told reporters that US officials relayed “concerns about American citizens, and we asked for lifting the travel ban on Dr. Fitaihi."

US Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, tweeted that he was “disappointed” over the sentencing and encouraged Saudi Arabia to overturn it and drop all charges against Fitaihi.  

“This has been and will remain a challenge to the U.S.-Saudi relationship,” he wrote.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called Fitaihi’s sentence “a travesty that should be universally condemned.”

“The Saudi authorities have once again shown their willingness to trample on fundamental rights,” Leahy tweeted. 

Saudi Arabia has come under intense congressional scrutiny since the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi, which the CIA concluded was personally ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

But efforts to hold the country accountable have been met with stiff resistance by President Donald Trump, who views Saudi Arabia as a bulwark against Iran. The administration sanctioned a number of officials over the journalist’s murder, but has not made public its findings into who was responsible. 

Trump has also vetoed resolutions aimed at ending US military assistance for the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen, as well as legislation blocking billions in weapons sales to the kingdom. 

Members of Congress have also urged the Trump administration to press Saudi Arabia for information on several Saudi Americans detained or awaiting trial in the kingdom. The US citizens in Saudi custody include journalist Salah al-Haidar and Bader al-Ibrahim, a doctor and writer. 

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