The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sentenced aid worker Abdulrahman al-Sadhan to 20 years in prison as the Biden administration has vowed to hold the country accountable for its human rights abuses. Photo by G20 Riyadh Summit/EPA-EFE
April 6 (UPI) -- The United States said it was "concerned" Tuesday over reports that Saudi Arabia had sentenced aid worker Abdulrahman al-Sadhan to 20 years in prison followed by a 20-year travel ban over allegations he ran an anonymous Twitter account critical of Riyadh.
In a statement, Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said al-Sadhan, 37, had been sentenced by a counterterrorism court.
"We will continue to monitor this case closely throughout any appeal process," Price said. "As we have said to Saudi officials at all levels, freedom of expression should never be a punishable offense."
U.S. citizen Areej al-Sadhan, the humanitarian aid worker's sister, confirmed Tuesday the court had sought the stiff penalty, calling it "insane."
"No words can describe how I feel," she said following the sentencing. "This BRUTAL & UNJUST ruling is just a reminder of the horrible situation the Saudi people are in."
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., condemned the sentencing of al-Sadhan for engaging in peaceful dissent anonymously as "brutal."
"This act continues Saudi Arabia's profoundly disturbing assault on the freedom of expression and its pattern of human rights abuses, which must be condemned by all freedom-loving people worldwide," she said in a statement.
Al-Sadhan was detained on March 12, 2018, by Saudi authorities at the main offices of the Saudi Red Crescent Society where he worked in Riyadh, according to the London-based Gulf Center for Human Rights.
The sentencing attracted condemnation from activists and human rights groups, including ALQST for Human Rights, which called on Saudi authorities to release al-Sadhan and to drop all charges against him.
"In a trial marred by violations of fair trail guarantees, al-Sadhan was tried under the counter-terrorism and anti-cybercrime laws, which are frequently used to stifle free speech in Saudi Arabia," the organization tweeted.
The sentencing came as the Biden administration has said it will take a stronger stance against Saudi Arabia over its human rights abuses than the previous Trump administration did.
During his presidential campaign, then-Democratic candidate Joe Biden vowed to treat the Middle Eastern country as "the pariah that they are."
As president, Biden paused arms deals with Saudi Arabia and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has vowed to put human rights at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy.
In February, a U.S. intelligence report identified Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as approving the operation to kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In response, the United States banned 76 Saudis under a ban that bears Khashoggi's name.
"We'll apply the ban to officials from any country that targets dissidents beyond its border," Blinken said late last month.
Pelosi said in her statement Tuesday that Congress stands with Biden as he seeks to hold Saudi Arabia accountable through visa denials and sanctions.
"Congress will continue to monitor this case closely throughout any appeals process, as well as any other human rights abuse in Saudi Arabia," she said. "Riyadh needs to know that the world is watching its disturbing actions and that we will hold it accountable."