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US lawsuit alleges Twitter, Saudi Arabia work together to support ‘repression’

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The Twitter corporate headquarters building is seen in downtown San Francisco, California. (Reuters file photo)

A federal lawsuit in the United States claims Twitter and Saudi Arabia have worked together to help Saudi agents arrest dissents in the Kingdom.

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in a US federal court in San Francisco on behalf of Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, a dual US-Saudi citizen.

Al-Sadhan, who had studied in the United States, was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2018 and is serving a 20-year sentence there. He was accused of publishing dissident tweets against the monarchy.

The lawsuit was initiated by Al-Sadhan's sister Areej al-Sadhan, who lives in the United States.

She sued Twitter and Saudi Arabia on allegations of racketeering and working to support repression.

The lawsuit said the agents' transmitted confidential Twitter data 30,892 times.

She also alleges that Twitter gave identifying information about her brother to Saudi agents in gross violation of its terms and conditions.

The lawsuit also claims that Saudi agents have tortured al-Sadhan.

The sister 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 pointed out that a Saudi investment firm as of late last year was the second biggest shareholder in Twitter, according to AFP.

"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," the lawsuit said, referring to Saudi Arabia.

She said 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.

Last year, Salma al-Shehab, a Leeds PhD student and mother of two, received a 34-year sentence for having a Twitter account and for following and retweeting dissidents and activists. Another woman, Noura al-Qahtani, was sentenced to 45 years in prison for using Twitter.

Last year, US prosecutors charged two former Twitter employees for spying on behalf of Saudi Arabia. One was convicted in December with another believed to have left for the kingdom.

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