BEIRUT, Lebanon: Five months after Saudi Arabia released a doctor with dual Saudi-American citizenship from jail, he and seven family members are still unable to leave the kingdom while on trial for charges the United States claims not They have merit, a son and an old man, said a State Department official.
Saudi authorities detained the doctor, Walid Fitaihi, during what they called an anti-corruption campaign in late 2017 and released him pending trial last summer. He told confidants that Saudi jailers tortured him. Authorities confiscated his family’s passports, leaving eight American Saudi citizens stuck in the kingdom, the son and the official said.
“My family’s freedoms have been taken,” the son, Ahmed Fitaihi, 27, from California, said by telephone.
While US diplomats have worked to restore the rights of Dr. Fitaihi and his family, President Trump has never spoken publicly about his case, leaving his son wondering why he hasn’t received the same attention from the White House than other Americans detained abroad.
“President Trump has a great track record in saving Americans, so why hasn’t he saved my dad?” Ahmed Fitaihi said.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Trump has called to ensure the release of detained Americans abroad as a “priority” and promised on Twitter Last year: “We will not rest while we continue our work to bring the remaining American hostages home!”
But not all cases seem to receive the same attention. Trump is proud to free Americans from countries such as Yemen, Turkey, Egypt and North Korea. Last month, he celebrated the release of Xiyue Wang, an American graduate student who had been imprisoned in Iran since 2016.
But he has not spoken publicly about Mustafa Kassem, an American who died in Egypt this month after six years of detention and a hunger strike, nor criticized President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, whom he jokingly called his “dictator Favourite”.
At least two Saudi and US citizens are being held in Saudi Arabia in addition to Dr. Fitaihi: Salah al-Haidar, son of a leading women’s rights activist, and Bader al-Ibrahim, a writer and doctor, according to Human Rights Watch Both were arrested last April.
Trump has also not spoken publicly about them, perhaps to avoid causing tension with Saudi Arabia and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom Trump sees as a key partner in the Middle East.
A spokesman for the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment on the status of Dr. Fitaihi. Saudi authorities have said that the kingdom does not torture people.
Dr. Fitaihi, a doctor trained at Harvard, was born in Saudi Arabia but became a citizen of the United States while living and working in the Boston area. He returned to the kingdom around 2006, where he opened a private hospital and became a motivational speaker.
He was arrested in November 2017 during a series of arrests that Saudi officials described as an anti-corruption campaign. But while most of the hundreds of princes, former officials and businessmen who were arrested at that time and locked in Riad Ritz-Carlton were released in a few months, Dr. Fitaihi was taken to prison and held for 21 months before being released pending trial last July.
The senior State Department official said Dr. Fitaihi faces charges that include obtaining U.S. citizenship without permission from the Saudi government and working with an organization affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, a transnational Islamic organization that Saudi Arabia, but not the United States or other western nations. – Consider a terrorist group.
The senior official said diplomats and other US officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, had raised Dr. Fitaihi’s case with a range of Saudis, so far in vain.
“We do not believe that the case has merit,” said the official, on condition of anonymity under diplomatic protocols. He said that the Saudis had not submitted information that would justify the imprisonment of Dr. Fitaihi or the travel ban that he and other family members face, which the official described as “a kind of collective punishment.”
Dr. Fitaihi’s son, Ahmed, said his mother, Lana Angawi, was born in Texas and has US citizenship, as did his six younger siblings. The family traveled once to the United States every year or so for vacations; Newport Beach was a favorite place.
Ahmed Fitaihi said that a brother, Yusuf, 19, had planned to attend an American university after high school, and a sister, Mariam, 24, had planned to move to Britain, where she earned a master’s degree, to engage.
But after his father’s arrest, security officers arrived at his house and confiscated his passports, preventing them from leaving the kingdom and putting their lives on hold. His father’s assets were also frozen, said Ahmed Fitaihi, which further limited his options.
The family had initially been optimistic when they released their father, hoping that the charges against him would be dropped and that they could travel.
But five months later, his father returned to work while his court case continues, and everyone remains trapped in Saudi Arabia, Ahmed Fitaihi said. Her sister opted for a smaller engagement party in the kingdom, and her brother has filed an application at several American universities, hoping that the travel ban will be lifted for the fall.
“The social and financial situation of my whole family has turned upside down,” said Fitaihi.
The next session in the court case of Dr. Fitaihi is scheduled for February 2.