U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he is likely going to “bring up the issue” of detained Saudi-American doctor Walid Fitaihi during his visit to the Middle Eastern country this week.
Fitaihi, a Boston-area physician, was arrested in Saudi Arabia in November 2017 during an anti-corruption crackdown initiated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that targeted senior princes, ministers, and businessmen. He was allegedly tortured and then released from detention last summer, but he and seven members of his family, all of whom are U.S. citizens, have been barred from leaving Saudi Arabia while he stands trial on unknown charges.
“I’m sure I’ll bring up that issue and a wide range of human rights issues as well,” Pompeo told reporters Wednesday while traveling to the Saudi capital, Riyadh. “Each of the visits I’ve had to the kingdom during my time both as the CIA director and as Secretary of State we’ve raised these important issues, the issues that matter a lot to the American people.”
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Pompeo will remain in Saudi Arabia until Friday, before departing to Oman, a close U.S. ally that has diplomatic ties with both Saudi Arabia and Iran.
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.
His son, Ahmed, has told members of Congress that his father was beaten, given electric shocks and subjected to other forms of torture and allowed little contact with his family during his detention.
One family member also told Human Rights Watch that in March 2019, Fitaihi – wearing arm and leg shackles – was brought to their home in Jeddah by more than a dozen men, who then proceeded to raid the property of its computers and phones.
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Fitaihi had 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.
It is unclear what specific charges Fitaihi faces.
Human Rights Watch says the 55-year-old is being held on vague accusations tied to his social media profiles, where Fitaihi allegedly expressed outrage over the murders of peaceful protesters.
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In December, a Saudi judge dismissed allegations against him that he was “sympathizing with the Muslim Brotherhood,” Human Rights Watch adds.
Saudi Arabia’s leadership has faced international criticism in recent years, most notably over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. A 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 reportedly killed and dismembered him inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.