Free Our Family Members in Saudi Arabia: A Plea to President-Elect Biden

Writer Salah al-Haidar, a U.S. citizen, is facing between eight and 33 years in prison for alleged Twitter posts criticizing the Saudi government.

Journalist and doctor Bader al-Ibrahim, another American, has been languishing without charge in solitary confinement for over 18 months, denied access to a lawyer or contact with his family.

Leading women’s rights activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, has spent the last two and a half years in prison for advocating for women’s rights. She has been tortured, denied family visits, and is now on a hunger strike.

Abdul Rahman al-Sadhan is a humanitarian aid worker who graduated from Catholic University and whose mother and sister are U.S. citizens. Imprisoned without charge since March 2018, he was tortured and prevented from seeing or communicating with his family.

The prominent Saudi reformist scholar of Islam, 65-year-old Salman al-Odah, has been tortured and is facing the death penalty over a tweet calling for peace.

We are relatives of these Saudi political prisoners and we fight for their freedom every day. Most of us are American citizens or U.S. legal permanent residents and we understand their pain because we have been driven from our homeland of Saudi Arabia for nothing more than exercising our basic human right of freedom of expression.

There are thousands more like us in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere who believe in the United States and what it stands for freedom, human rights, and basic human decency. It is sobering to imagine what further damage could be done if we allow Saudi Arabia to continue to get away with these blatant and disturbing attacks on American values. We don’t want to get to that point and so we are calling on President-elect Joe Biden who has expressed great concern for human rights, to address this as soon as possible.

We seek only the protections afforded us and our family members by U.S. law and customs. Our representatives in Congress have been outspoken on our behalf, but to no avail.

As noted by U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and seven of his Senate colleagues in a letter to King Salman, “releasing political prisoners in Saudi Arabia would help demonstrate belated yet welcome respect for human rights and help repair the damaged U.S.-Saudi relationship.”

President-elect Biden spoke powerfully of the need to “defend the right of activists, political dissidents, and journalists around the world to speak their minds freely without fear of persecution and violence.”

We are counting on him to translate these eloquent words into action. For the sake of our relatives, our fellow Americans, and all who yearn for freedom, we implore the Biden administration to bring to bear the full weight of America’s considerable power and influence to right these terrible wrongs. Our family members and friends should be freed, immediately and unconditionally. And God willing, perhaps one day we will be safe to visit our homeland and once again feel the warm embrace of our loved ones.

Under Biden’s leadership, America has an opportunity to reassert the moral authority that has made it a beacon of justice for millions around the world just like us. Our countrymen and women believe in the United States and the principles for which it stands.