(CNN)–The US State Department confirmed that US citizen Saad Ibrahim Al-Madhi, 72, was arrested in Saudi Arabia, the Washington Post reported for the first time, to 16 years in prison for tweets critical of the Saudi government.
“We have consistently and extensively raised our concerns regarding the issue at the highest levels of the Saudi government, both through channels in Riyadh and Washington, DC as well… as recently as yesterday,” State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vidant Patel said at a press briefing.
Patel also confirmed that no State Department official was present at the sentencing hearing on Saad Al-Madhi, because the Saudi government postponed the hearing without informing the US embassy and never responded to the embassy’s request to attend the hearing weeks earlier than it was originally scheduled, Patel said.
Patel said the State Department was still considering whether to classify Al-Madi as “unfairly detained.”
“The exercise of freedom of expression should never be criminalized,” Patel added.
Patel also said that the last time the US was able to access Saad al-Madhi was on August 10, noting that “in many cases, we have difficulties in gaining access to dual nationals detained in Saudi Arabia. But we are doing our best to pressure order consular access and consular assistance as we did in this case as well.”