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Saudi Arabia frees American imprisoned over critical tweets

WASHINGTON (AP) — Saudi Arabia on Monday freed a 72-year-old American citizen it had imprisoned for more than a year over old tweets critical of the kingdom's crown prince, his son said. Neither Saudi nor U.S.
In this photo provided by Ibrahim Almadi, Saad Ibrahim Almadi sits in a restaurant in an unidentified place, in the United States, on August 2021. Saudi Arabia has freed the Saudi-American citizen it had imprisoned more than a year over his old tweets critical of the kingdom’s crown prince. (Ibrahim Almadi via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Saudi Arabia on Monday freed a 72-year-old American citizen it had imprisoned for more than a year over old tweets critical of the kingdom's crown prince, his son said.

Neither Saudi nor U.S. officials immediately confirmed the release of Saad Almadi, a dual U.S.-Saudi citizen and, until his imprisonment in Saudi Arabia, a longtime retiree in Florida. There had been word since last week of progress toward Almadi's release.

Almadi on Monday night was at home with family members who live in Riyadh, said his son, Ibrahim Almadi, in the United States. Saudi officials dropped all charges against the elder Almadi, Ibrahim Almadi and advocates familiar with the case said. But it was not immediately clear whether the kingdom would lift a travel ban it had imposed to follow the prison sentence to allow the elder Almadi to return to the United States.

The Florida man's imprisonment over tweets had been one of several alleged human rights abuses that had soured relations between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and President Joe Biden. That included Saudi officials' killing of a U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018, and prison sentences and travel bans that Saudi Arabia under the crown prince's tenure has given Saudi rights advocates and perceived rivals and critics of the powerful crown prince.

Both Prince Mohammed and the Biden administration recently have taken steps toward restoring better relations. The two countries are partners in a decades-old security arrangement in which the U.S. provides security for Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich kingdom keeps global markets supplied with oil.

Saudi Arabia had sentenced Almadi last year to 16 years in prison, saying his critical tweets about how the kingdom was being governed amounted to terrorist acts against it.

As U.S. officials worked to win his release, and after Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia last summer in an attempt to improve relations with the oil-rich nation, a Saudi appeals court increased Almadi’s prison sentence to 19 years.

A retired project manager in the United States, Almadi was arrested in 2021 when he arrived for what was to have been a two-week visit to see family in the kingdom. Once in custody, he was confronted by Saudi authorities with tweets he had posted over several years from his home in Florida, his son says.

Almadi's tweets included one noting Prince Salman's consolidation of power in the kingdom, another that included a caricature of the prince, and a tweet that remarked on Khashoggi's killing. US intelligence officials earlier concluded the crown prince authorized the hit team that killed Khashoggi inside a Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

"We are relieved that Saad Almadi has been released, but he should have never spent a day behind bars for innocuous tweets,” said Abdullah Alaoudh, Saudi director for the Freedom Initiative, a U.S.-based group that advocates for those it considers unjustly detained in the Middle East.

Alaoudh urged the U.S. to continue to press for the release of all rights advocates and others detained in Saudi Arabia.

Freedom Initiative says least four U.S. citizens and one legal permanent resident already were detained in Saudi Arabia under travel bans, and that at least one other older U.S. citizen remains imprisoned. Many of the travel bans targeted dual citizens advocating for greater rights in the kingdom, such as Saudi women's right to drive.

Ibrahim Almadi said his father had lost extensive weight in prison and that his health had worsened drastically.

Ellen Knickmeyer, The Associated Press