Twitter Thread Seeking Help For Saudi Comedian, Imprisoned Activist Goes Viral

"American Dad!" producer Kirk Rudell made an impassioned plea on behalf of his friends Loujain Hathloul and Fahad Albutairi after they were arrested last year.
Fahad Albutairi (left) is a popular Saudi comedian. Loujain Hathloul (right) is a prominent women's rights activist in S
Fahad Albutairi (left) is a popular Saudi comedian. Loujain Hathloul (right) is a prominent women's rights activist in Saudi Arabia. Both have been harassed by the Saudi government.

A TV producer’s Twitter thread is going viral after he called on lawmakers to come to the aid of two well-known activist friends who have been arrested amid Saudi Arabia’s ruthless crackdown on dissidents.

Kirk Rudell, whose producing credits include “American Dad!” and “Will & Grace,” drew attention to the plight of women’s rights activist Loujain Hathloul and comedian Fahad Albutairi in a Twitter thread Wednesday. Both were reportedly arrested last year, and Hathloul remains in detention. Albutairi’s status was not immediately known.

Rudell called on the U.S. government to stop accepting “payoffs to look the other way at human rights atrocities” committed by Saudi Arabia.

Though Hathloul’s detention has been widely reported for months, Rudell’s disturbing Twitter thread ― an excerpt of which is included below ― propelled her story back into the spotlight this week. His post follows the high-profile killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who had criticized the country’s royal family.

Rudell tweeted that he first met Albutairi, dubbed the “Seinfeld of Saudi Arabia,” and his then-wife Hathloul a couple years ago during a recording session for Fox’s “American Dad!” Rudell is a co-executive producer and has written for the animated TV series. Albutairi voiced a minor character in a 2017 episode of the show, according to IMDb.

Hathloul, who rose to prominence for defying Saudi Arabia’s ban on women drivers, and Albutairi continued to keep in touch with Rudell over the years, the TV writer said. But Rudell wrote that his communication with them ceased after they were allegedly detained by Saudi officials in March 2018.

“While Jared Kushner’s buddy [Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] was planning to murder Khashoggi, he was also imprisoning many others, including Fahad and Loujain,” Rudell tweeted.

Rudell urged high-profile figures like Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” as well as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and the newly Democratic-led House of Representatives, to focus on Albutairi and Hathloul.

“They were just young, creative people, trying to make stuff,” Rudell wrote.

Neither Rudell nor a representative for the Saudi government immediately responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment. HuffPost’s email to Albutairi was not returned.

Hathloul was jailed for 73 days in 2014 after driving her car from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates, where she lived. She has been arrested several times since then for protesting Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship laws and ban on women drivers.

Mohammed bin Salman became publicly associated with the government’s decision to lift the ban by permitting women to apply for driver’s licenses, which was announced just a few months after he gained new power by becoming crown prince in the summer of 2017.

Some world leaders saw the move as a signal that the crown price would herald in a more progressive era for the Middle Eastern kingdom. But the infamous killing of Khashoggi, which the CIA concluded had been ordered by the crown prince, sent shockwaves through the region.

Hathloul and Albutair were reportedly detained by the Saudi government in March 2018. She was released, but ultimately detained again in May 2018, along with several other Saudi women’s rights activists.

She is being held in the country’s notorious maximum-security Dhahban Prison, according to Amnesty International. She has not been formally charged.

“[Hathloul] appears to have been targeted as punishment for standing up for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia,” Sara Hashash, Amnesty International’s media manager for the Middle East and North Africa, told HuffPost in a statement.

“Instead of detaining her for months without charge the Saudi Arabian authorities should release her and all other women human rights defenders detained in connection with their peaceful activism immediately and unconditionally,” she added.

Amnesty International reported in November 2018 that activists detained at Dhahban Prison had been subjected to torture and sexual harassment.

Albutairi was reportedly arrested in March 2018 while working on an acting project in Jordan. He was handcuffed, blindfolded and flown to Saudi Arabia, The New York Times reported. It’s unclear if he has been released. His Twitter and Instagram pages have been deleted.

The Times reported in October that Hathloul and Albutairi’s marriage had ended, though it’s unclear why or when this happened.

Some Twitter users warned that Rudell’s decision to include screenshots of alleged conversations he had with Hathloul could pose a risk to the jailed activist.

“I question how wise it is to display what are obviously private screenshots from someone who is currently being detained,” tweeted H.A. Hellyer, a Middle Eastern policy and security expert. “Surely these could be very easily used against the detainee?” 

Read an excerpt of Rudell’s Twitter thread below:

 Akbar Shahid Ahmed contributed reporting.