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Saudi Arabia frees American imprisoned for critical tweets, his son says

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In this photo provided by Ibrahim Almadi, his father, Saad Almadi, sits in a restaurant in an unknown US location in August 2021.

Ibrahim Almadi/AP

Saudi Arabia on Monday released 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 US officials immediately confirmed the release of Saad Almadi, a dual US-Saudi citizen and, until his imprisonment in Saudi Arabia, long retired in Florida. There had been talk since last week of progress towards Almadi’s release.

Almadi was at home with family members living in Riyadh on Monday night, his son Ibrahim Almadi said in the United States.

Saudi officials dropped all charges against Bara Almadi, Ibrahim Almadi and lawyers familiar with the case. But it was not immediately clear whether the state would lift a travel ban it had imposed to allow the elder Almadi to return to the United States to pursue a prison sentence.

The Florida man’s jailing for the tweet was one of several allegations of human rights abuses that have soured relations between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and President Biden. Includes alleged abuse US-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudi officials inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. and the prison sentences and travel bans that Saudi Arabia has imposed on Saudi rights supporters and rivals and critics of the powerful crown prince during the crown prince’s tenure.

Both Prince Mohammed and the Biden administration have recently taken steps toward restoring better relations. The two countries are partners in a decade-old arrangement in which the United States provides security for Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich state supplies oil to the world market.

Saudi Arabia sentenced Almadi to 16 years in prison last year, saying his tweets critical of how the kingdom was being run amounted to acts of terrorism against it.

A Saudi appeals court increased Almadi’s prison sentence to 19 years after US officials worked for his release and Mr Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia last summer in an effort to improve relations with the oil-rich country.

Almadi, a retired project manager in the United States, was arrested in 2021 when he arrived in the state for a two-week visit to visit family members. Once in custody, he confronted Saudi authorities over tweets he had posted for years from his home in Florida, his son said.

Almadi’s tweets included one referring to Prince Salman’s consolidation of power in the kingdom, another featuring a caricature of the Prince and a tweet commenting on Khashoggi’s assassination. US intelligence officials had previously concluded that the crown prince had approved the hit team that killed Khashoggi.

Abdullah Alaoud, the Saudi director of Freedom Initiative, a US-based group that advocates for wrongfully detained people in the Middle East, said, “We are relieved that Saad Almadi has been released, but he should never have spent a day behind bars. Barring innocent tweets.”

Alaoud called on the United States to continue pressing for the release of all rights lawyers and others detained in Saudi Arabia.

The Freedom Initiative said at least four U.S. citizens and one legal permanent resident have already been detained under the travel ban in Saudi Arabia, and at least one elderly U.S. citizen is being held. Many of the travel bans target dual citizens advocating for greater rights in the kingdom, such as Saudi women’s right to drive.

Ibrahim Almadi said his father lost a lot of weight in prison and his health deteriorated severely.

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