(Photo Credit: William Widmer/Redux)
Dual US-Lebanese citizen and Twitter employee Ahmad Abouammo has been found guilty of spying on users for Saudi Arabia. He was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on 14 December.
Abouammo’s job at Twitter was to oversee relationships with journalists and celebrities in West Asia and North Africa, which he used to his advantage to acquire personal information on active users, including phone numbers, Twitter activity, and birth dates. These were then passed on to agents affiliated with the Saudi government.
The US District Court in the Northern District of California issued Abouammo’s sentence. According to official reports, another person assisted the former Twitter employee in this Saudi-backed scheme, but fled to Saudi Arabia to evade prosecution in the US.
According to prosecutors, a close adviser to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) hired Abouammo to help in obtaining personal information about Saudi dissidents.
In July, The Guardian revealed that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been using hacking software sold by Israeli surveillance company NSO Group to spy on journalists, politicians, lawyers, and activists on an international scale.
The Saudi Arabian government is also known for its intolerance to criticism against the establishment. Earlier this month, the US federal court dismissed the lawsuit against MbS for his involvement in the brutal murder of Saudi-US journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as US President Joe Biden granted the monarch immunity.
MbS orchestrated Khashoggi’s kidnapping and dismemberment at the Saudi consulate in Turkiye in 2018 over his countless criticisms of Riyadh.
In September, Saudi national Noura al-Qahtani received a 45-year jail sentence and travel ban over several social media posts condemning the policies of the Saudi government.
She was found guilty of spreading false information and “besmirching” King Salman and MbS.
A month prior, in a similar incident, Riyadh sentenced women’s rights activist Salma al-Shehab to 34 years in prison after advocating for social reforms for women.