The bipartisan congressional tandem of Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) sent a blistering letter to Saudi Arabia’s Royal Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman demanding the release of Saudi prisoners who are locked up for posting tweets critical of the Saudi regime.
“Jailing people for their expression, including criticism of their nation’s political rulers, is an intolerable violation of human rights and freedom of speech,” Raskin and Mace write in their demand.
Calling the Crown Prince’s rule “autocratic and theocratic,” the members of Congress drew specific attention to the “appalling” imprisonment in Saudi Arabia of a 72-year-old Saudi-American who possesses dual citizenship.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has jailed numerous Saudi citizens simply for tweeting criticism of his autocratic regime.@RepNancyMace and I are demanding the immediate release of these political prisoners.https://t.co/vhGY5QAH4s— Rep. Jamie Raskin (@RepRaskin) March 27, 2023
Saad Almaldi was on a visit from America to Saudi Arabia to visit family, according to Raskin and Mace, when he was arrested in 2021 and imprisoned for, among other allegations, supporting “terrorist ideology.” The cause for his arrest and subsequent conviction was a series of tweets Almadi had posted seven years before his visit, which the letter describes as “mild.”
In blasting the Crown Prince and his government’s record, Raskin and Mace also mention without equivocation the case of “Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post contributing columnist who your state agents assassinated in a gruesome dismemberment.”
Though Almadi was released after protests, the “Orwellian nightmare” he experienced is still a reality for others imprisoned in Saudi Arabia only “because they have displeased a government ruler with their opinions.”
Raskin and Mace also castigate Mohammed bin Salman directly for false promises, saying “you spoke of making Saudi Arabia more open and tolerant. You promised to reform harsh laws and policies preventing the country’s progress,” only to conclude that he had instead “further trampled on your own citizens’ right to free thought and free speech” and “undermined the essential freedoms that sovereign democratic countries strive to protect for our citizens.”
Raskin and Mace focus on free speech on Twitter, where another concern is the Saudi ownership in the platform.
While Chinese ownership of TikTok has been the subject of acute congressional inquiry recently, Saudi Arabia’s minority ownership of Twitter has faced far less scrutiny, — despite the incompatibility of Saudi Arabia’s free speech crackdowns and Twitter owner Elon Musk‘s assertion that Twitter is a virtual haven for free speech.
In November of last year Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) called for an investigation into the Saudi Wealth Fund’s Twitter ownership and its potential influence on the platform’s censorship.
We should be concerned that the Saudis, who have a clear interest in repressing political speech and impacting U.S. politics, are now the second-largest owner of a major social media platform.— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) October 31, 2022
There is a clear national security issue at stake and CFIUS should do a review.
Before the Twitter-to-Musk deal was complete, Murphy wrote: “If this deal goes through, two of the most important U.S. social media platforms will be owned, in whole or in part, by China (TikTok) and Saudi Arabia (Twitter). This is a dangerous trend, and we don’t have to accept it.”