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Saudi Arabia frees American who was jailed over tweets about crown prince

Saad Ibrahim Almadi, a dual U.S.-Saudi national, was with family at his home in Riyadh, his son said. He had been sentenced to 19 years in prison.
A US citizen sentenced to 19 years in a Saudi prison for social media posts criticising the kingdom's rulers has been released, his son told on March 21, 2023.
Saad Almadi, right, with his son Ibrahim in an image released by the Almadi family last year.AFP - Getty Images

Saudi Arabia has freed a 72-year-old U.S. citizen who had been jailed over critical tweets about the kingdom's government and crown prince, his son said Tuesday.

Saad Ibrahim Almadi, a dual U.S.-Saudi national and retired project manager who had been living in Florida, had been imprisoned for more than a year; he had been sentenced to 19 years.

His son, Ibrahim Almadi, said early Tuesday that all charges had been dropped and that his father was at his home in Riyadh with his family but that he was banned from traveling.

“He considers the United States home, not Saudi,” Ibrahim said of his father, adding that he was concerned for his father's health.

"He needs immediate medical treatment and attention in the United States. For that [reason], the travel ban is quite concerning to us," he added. Ibrahim said he was confident the family would be able to bring his father back to his family in the U.S., with the assistance of the State Department.

Neither Saudi authorities nor the U.S. government have confirmed Almadi's release.

The case was one of many alleged human rights abuses to strain ties between the two countries, which had a public spat last year over oil supply after they clashed over the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

President Joe Biden has said he raised concerns about Almadi’s imprisonment and the cases of other U.S. citizens in meetings with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when he visited Saudi Arabia in July to reset relations.

Since the ascent of the crown prince — a de factor ruler who is seeking to open up and modernize the ultraconservative kingdom — human rights groups have raised growing concern about Saudi authorities' crackdown on dissent.

Almadi's son said his father was arrested on several charges, including supporting terrorism, shortly after he landed in Riyadh in November 2021 to visit family.

A criminal court sentenced him to 16 years in October, his son said. Last month, an appeals court increased his sentence to 19 years.

Ibrahim said his father was detained because of several tweets he sent over the last few years.

He added that his father was not an activist but a private citizen who expressed his opinions on Twitter while in the U.S., where freedom of speech is a constitutional right.

Almadi’s tweets included one noting the crown prince's consolidation of power in the kingdom and another that remarked on Khashoggi’s killing, according to The Associated Press.

Almadi's son met with State Department representatives last week. "I blew the whistle on Saad['s] condition," Ibrahim tweeted March 14.

"His only way back is through wrongfully detained recognition. They assure me the process [is] ongoing and freedom of speech should never be criminalized," he continued.

The Freedom Initiative, a U.S.-based human rights organization that advocates for the freedom of prisoners wrongfully detained across the Middle East and North Africa, welcomed the news in a statement Tuesday.

“We are relieved that Saad Almadi has been released, but he should have never spent a day behind bars for innocuous tweets,” Abdullah Alaoudh, the Saudi director at the organization, said in the statement.

Freedom Initiative says at least six U.S. persons are detained or trapped under politically motivated travel bans in Saudi Arabia.

"There are far too many people in Saudi detention who don’t have the benefit of U.S. citizenship to draw attention to their cases," Alaoudh said. "Almadi’s release shows that strategic pressure works, and U.S. officials should continue to press for release of prisoners and lifting of travel bans.”