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The New Arab Staff

Saudi Arabia hands American doctor six-year prison sentence despite US appeals

Fitaihi was arrested in 2017 [YouTube]

Date of publication: 9 December, 2020

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A Saudi court sentenced Dr Walid Fitahi to six years in prison and renewed a travel ban against his wife and children, all of whom are dual nationals.
A Saudi court sentenced a Saudi-American dual national to six years in prison on Tuesday despite repeated protests from US officials.

Walid Fitaihi, a doctor who founded a prominent Saudi hospital, was sentenced on charges that included illegally obtaining US citizenship, a person close to his family said.

Fitaihi obtained American nationality without seeking official permission, the court said. The doctor's sentence also referenced Twitter posts giving support to the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, The Washington Post reported.

The US is "disappointed to hear of the sentencing of Dr. Walid Fitaihi and are seeking a full understanding of the ruling against him", a spokesperson for the State Department said on Tuesday.

Two US diplomats were present at the doctor's sentencing, a friend of his family said.

The Trump administration rarely criticises Saudi Arabia's pockmarked human rights record, which includes the detention of activists, war in Yemen, and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The White House has made an exception for Fitaihi, however, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo publicly calling on Riyadh to lift a travel ban on the dual national last year.

Fitaihi was initially arrested in 2017 in what Riyadh described as a wide-ranging crackdown on corruption by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Rights groups say a desire to purge rivals and refill the state coffers were key motivations behind the detention of hundreds of royal family members, businessmen and other prominent figures.

The Saudi-American doctor was released from custody last year after being held for nearly two years without trial. Fitaihi told family members that he was tortured while in captivity.

Since then, Fitaihi and his family members have faced a travel ban and had their Saudi assets frozen.

Tuesday's sentence renewed the travel ban against Fitaihi, his wife and six children, all of whom are also US citizens.

Another two American citizens are currently held in Saudi Arabia - Salah Al-Haidar, the son of a women's rights activist, and Bader Al-Ibrahim, a doctor and writer.

Haidar's mother, Aziza al-Yousef, is among nearly a dozen women currently on trial on charges related to their activism, such as pushing for the right to drive before the ban on women was lifted in 2018.

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