The U.S. State Department has confirmed that a United States citizen is being detained Saudi Arabia after a report revealed that he has allegedly been tortured while in captivity.
In a statement on Sunday, a Department of State spokesperson said that allegations of the mistreatment of Dr. Walid Fitaihi are being taken “extremely seriously.”
“We can confirm that U.S. citizen Walid Fitaihi is detained in Saudi Arabia, we are providing him consular services, and we have raised his case with the Government of Saudi Arabia,” the statement reads. “The U.S. Department of State and our embassies and consulates abroad have no greater responsibility than the protection of U.S. citizens overseas.”
Dr. Fitaihi is a dual citizen of the United States and Saudi Arabia, and holds undergraduate and medical degrees from George Washington University and a master’s in public health from Harvard University.
He returned to Saudi Arabia in 2006 to help found a hospital there built by his family, and while there, built a career as a prominent motivational speaker on television.
In 2017, he was one of about 200 Saudi citizens rounded up and held prisoner at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton hotel. The Saudi government said that the mass arrests were an attempt to eradicate corruption in the country, but many viewed it as an attempt for Prince Mohammed bin Salman to exert authority over his critics. The vast majority of those arrested at the Ritz-Carlton were released, but Dr. Fitaihi has continued to be detained by the Saudi government since 2017 after being transferred to a prison in Riyadh.
Dr. Fitaihi told a friend that he was “blindfolded, stripped of his underwear and bound to a chair,” and later whipped so badly that he could not sleep on his back for days, according to a report by the New York Times. There have been accusations of torture by many other detainees rounded up in the 2017 Ritz-Carlton shakedown.
Dr. Fitaihi’s family has reportedly been quietly trying to organize his release for months, but are now speaking out in an attempt to put public pressure on the Saudi government and President Trump to arrange his freedom.
Howard Cooper, a lawyer working with the Fitaihi family, said that the doctor was currently being held in a prison hospital after suffering an “emotional breakdown” after experiencing months of torture.
“There is an American citizen being tortured in a Saudi prison,” he said. “He has been not only psychologically tortured but physically tortured and he can’t hold out much longer.”
Slain Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi spoke out about Dr. Fitaihi’s detainment before his death, allegedly at the hands of Saudi agents, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.
“What has happened to us?” Khashoggi wrote in Arabic on Twitter. “How can someone like Dr Walid Fitaihi be arrested and what are the justifications for it?”
Kashoggi’s murder put significant pressure on President Trump’s relationship with the Crown Prince, though Trump ultimately spoke out defending the controversial leader. No charges have ever been revealed against Dr. Fitaihi, nor has he ever been taken to trial.
In their statement on Saturday, the State Department urged the Saudi Arabian government “to ensure fair trial guarantees, freedom from arbitrary and extrajudicial detention, transparency, and rule of law.”
“We have spoken out publicly about many of our concerns, and continue to do so in our private diplomatic engagement as well,” it concluded.
The Associated Press contributed to the reporting of this story.