Twitter, Saudi Arabia sued in US over jailed user
The sister of a Saudi national imprisoned after tweets criticizing the government on Tuesday sued both Twitter and the kingdom, alleging they worked together to support "repression."
The lawsuit filed in a US federal court in San Francisco, which named powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a conspirator, seeks a jury trial to determine damages.
Abdulrahman al-Sadhan was working for the Red Crescent in Riyadh when he was taken away from the office in 2018 and later handed a 20-year jail sentence.
Al-Sadhan, who had studied in the United States, had set up an anonymous Twitter account through which he critiqued the ultra-conservative monarchy and retweeted dissident voices.
US prosecutors later charged two former Twitter employees for spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia. One was convicted in December with another believed to have left to the kingdom.
The lawsuit said the agents transmitted confidential Twitter data 30,892 times.
Al-Sadhan's sister Areej al-Sadhan, a US citizen, said in the lawsuit that she learned that secret police "broke Plaintiff Abdulrahmam's hand and smashed his fingers, taunting him that 'this is the hand you write and tweet with.'
"The secret police also tortured Plaintiff Abdulrahman with electric shocks, flogged and hung him from his feet, suspended him in contorted positions, deprived him of sleep, threatened to behead him, insulted him, and kept him in solitary confinement for years," the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit sued Twitter and Saudi Arabia on allegations of racketeering, a US crime initially used to target the mafia that involves coordinating illegal activity for profit.
The lawsuit noted that a Saudi investment firm as of late last year was the second biggest shareholder in Twitter after CEO Elon Musk and that some of the Saudi stake had been sold to the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund.
The lawsuit said that Twitter, including by allowing anonymous accounts, had been a champion for activists in the Arab Spring democratic uprisings.
"Unfortunately, Defendant Twitter became a participant tool of transnational repression to silence voices of dissent beyond Saudi Arabia's borders in the United States and abroad, all in an effort to monetize its commercial relationship with Defendant KSA," it said, referring to the kingdom.
Areej al-Sadhan said in the lawsuit that she has had to be "constantly vigilant" since her brother's arrest and fears being kidnapped.
"Plaintiff Areej suffers daily as a target of the Saudi Criminal Enterprise, in what she can only describe as a 'living nightmare,'" it said.