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Pompeo to raise case of US doctor on trial during visit to Saudi Arabia

Mike Pompeo arrives in Saudi Arabia on 19 February 2020 [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 February, 2020

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Washington's top diplomat will raise the case of American doctor Walid Fitaihi along with 'a wide range of human rights issues' when he visits Saudi Arabia this week.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday he planned to raise US concerns about human rights during a visit to Saudi Arabia, in particular the case of a Saudi-American facing trial after he was barred from leaving the kingdom.

Pompeo is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia from Wednesday to Friday, before departing to Oman, a close US ally that has ties with both Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Pompeo said that during his time in Saudi Arabia, he will speak with the kingdom's leadership about security issues, threats posed by Iran, the economic relationship between the two countries, and issues of human rights.

When asked by a reporter whether he would specifically raise the case of Saudi-American doctor Walid Fitaihi, Pompeo said: "I'm sure I'll bring up that issue and a wide range of human rights issues, as well."

"In each of the visits I've had to the kingdom during my time both as CIA director and as secretary of state, we raised these important issues, these issues that matter a lot to the American people," Pompeo said.

A day before Pompeo was scheduled to arrive in Saudi Arabia, the two lead Congressmen in the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to Pompeo to urge him to raise the case of Fitaihi with Saudi government officials.

Fitaihi, a physician from the Boston area, was detained in Saudi Arabia in November 2017 during an unprecedented anti-corruption crackdown initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that targeted senior princes, ministers and businessmen.

Some 200 people were detained in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh for weeks, and even months, and forced to sign over billions of dollars in assets to the government during the shakedown, which helped the young crown prince consolidate power.

Fitaihi was released from detention last summer, but he and seven members of his family, all of whom are US citizens, have been barred from leaving Saudi Arabia while he stands trial, the congressmen said. It is unclear what specific charges Fitaihi faces.

Democratic representative Eliot Engel of New York and Republican representative Michael McCaul of Texas said in their letter that Fitaihi was held without charge for almost two years.

Ahmed Fitaihi has told members of Congress that his father was beaten, electrocuted and subjected to other forms of torture and allowed little contact with his family during his detention. Fitaihi returned to his native Saudi Arabia in 2006, where he helped found a hospital built by his family and became a popular motivational speaker on television.

Protections for human rights have significantly deteriorated under the crown prince, with thousands of people detained without charge or judicial procedure, in some cases for over a decade.

The prince's reputation was dealt a serious blow after the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. A mild critic of the crown prince, Khashoggi was living in exile and writing about the prince's crackdown on critics and activists when agents who worked for the Saudi prince killed and dismembered him inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Despite being a US resident and having three children with US citizenship, Washington has been accused of failing to reprimand the kingdom, allowing Saudi Arabia's leadership to continue grave violations of human rights with impunity.

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