Saudi Arabia releases US national Almadi from prison, says son
Riyadh (Reuters) – Saudi authorities released on Tuesday a U.S. citizen jailed for 19 years for posting criticism of the government on Twitter but he remains banned from travelling, his son said, as the kingdom moves to ease tension with the United States.
Saad Ibrahim Almadi, 72, was jailed for 16 years by a criminal court in 2022 and an appeals court increased his sentence to 19 years last month.
His son, Ibrahim, told Reuters his father was at his home in Riyadh with his family.
“All charges have been dropped but we have to fight the travel ban now,” Ibrahim said.
The Saudi government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. There was no immediate reaction from the White House or the U.S. State Department.
Almadi, a dual U.S.-Saudi national who had been living in retirement in Florida, was arrested after landing in Riyadh in November 2021 on several charges, including funding terrorism and working to destabilize the kingdom.
His case, along with those of other U.S. citizens who remain under a travel ban in Saudi Arabia, had added to an already strained relationship between the two traditional allies.
U.S. President Joe Biden said he had raised the cases during meetings with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when he visited Saudi Arabia in July.
In October, Biden vowed there would be consequences for Riyadh after the OPEC+ oil alliance, led by Saudi Arabia and which includes Russia, decided to cut output targets.
But both sides have been working to improve ties recently.
The kingdom, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has been pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into a drive to transform and open its economy and reduce its dependence on crude.
The reforms have been accompanied by a raft of arrests of critics of Prince Mohammed, as well as of businessmen, clerics and rights activists.
Last week, Saudi state television showed prisoners who had been jailed for up to 15 years after publishing critical posts on Twitter.
Two Saudi women were sentenced to 45 and 35 years last year on charges that included “using the internet to tear the social fabric”.
Abdullah Alaoudh, Saudi director at the Freedom Initiative, said Almadi’s release showed that pressure from the United States had been effective.
“There are far too many people in detention in Saudi Arabia who do not have the benefits of U.S. citizenship to draw attention to their cases,” he 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,” he added.
This month, Democratic and Republican U.S. senators introduced a resolution that could lead to a reassessment of security assistance for the kingdom over its rights record.