Doctor’s family barred from leaving as he stands trial in Saudi Arabia


Saudi-American citizen Dr. Walid Fitaihi and his family is currently in limbo as they are barred from leaving Saudi Arabia while he awaits for his trial for charges that US officials call meritless.

Saudi Arabia authorities detained the doctor, during what they called an anti-corruption campaign in late 2017. He was released last summer pending trial. Authorities have confiscated his family’s passports, leaving him his wife and six children stuck in the kingdom.

“My family’s freedoms have been taken,” said Ahmad Fitaihi, 27, his son who is based in California.

While United States diplomats have worked to restore the rights of Dr. Fitaihi and his family, President Trump has never spoken publicly of his case, leaving his son wondering why he has not received the same attention from the White House as other Americans detained abroad.

“President Trump has a great record in saving Americans, so why has he not saved my dad?” Ahmad Fitaihi asked.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The senior State Department official said Dr. Fitaihi faces charges including obtaining United States 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 — considers a terrorist group.

At least two dual Saudi-United States citizens are detained in Saudi Arabia in addition to Dr.Fitaihi; Salah al-Haidar, the son of a prominent women’s rights activist, and Bader al-Ibrahim, a writer and medical doctor, according to Human Rights Watch. Both were detained last April.

Mr. Trump has not publicly spoken of them either, perhaps to avoid causing tension with Saudi Arabia and its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom Mr. Trump sees as a key partner in the Middle East.

A spokesman at the Saudi Embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment on Dr. Fitaihi’s status.

Dr. Fitaihi, a Harvard-trained physician, was born in Saudi Arabia but became a United States citizen 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 sweep 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 then and locked in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton were released within a few months, Dr.Fitaihi was transferred to prison and held for 21 months before he was released pending trial last July.

The senior official said that diplomats and other United States officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, had raised Dr. Fitaihi’s case with a range of Saudis, so far to no avail.

“We do not believe there is merit to the case,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity under diplomatic protocols. He said the Saudis had presented no information that would justify Dr. Fitaihi’s incarceration or the travel ban facing him and other members of his family, which the official described as “sort-of collective punishment.” (Source: NY Times)