Saudi Arabia releases US citizen Al-Madi from prison, son says


RIYADH—Saudi authorities on Tuesday released a US citizen jailed for 19 years for posting criticism of the government on Twitter, but his son was banned from traveling as the kingdom moved to ease tensions with the US He said it would remain.

Saad Ibrahim Al-Madi, 72, was sentenced to 16 years in prison by a criminal court in 2022, and an appeals court last month extended his sentence to 19 years.

His son, Ibrahim, told Reuters his father was at his home in Riyadh with his family.

“All charges have been dropped, but now we have to fight the travel ban,” 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 US State Department.

Al-Madi, a dual U.S.-Saudi national who retired in Florida, has been accused of several crimes after landing in Riyadh in November 2021, including financing terrorism and involvement in destabilizing the kingdom. arrested on suspicion.

His case, like that of other US citizens under travel bans in Saudi Arabia, adds to already strained relations between the two traditional allies.

US President Joe Biden said he raised the matter during a meeting with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a visit to Saudi Arabia in July.

In October, Biden vowed there would be consequences for Riyadh after the OPEC+ oil alliance, led by Saudi Arabia and including Russia, decided to cut production targets.

However, both sides have recently been working to improve their relationship.

“Strategic Pressure”

The kingdom, the world’s largest oil exporter, is pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into a drive to transform and open its economy and reduce its dependence on crude oil.

The reforms have been accompanied by a spate of arrests of Prince Mohammed’s critics, businessmen, clerics and rights activists.

Last week, Saudi state television featured inmates who have been jailed for up to 15 years after posting critical posts on Twitter.

Two Saudi women were sentenced to 45 and 35 years in prison last year on charges including “using the internet to tear up the fabric of society.”

Abdullah Aloud, the Saudi director of the Freedom Initiative, said Mr Almadi’s release showed that pressure from the United States had been effective.

“There are too many people in Saudi Arabia detained without the benefit of US citizenship to draw attention to their cases,” he said.

“Almadi’s release shows that strategic pressure is working, and US officials should continue to push for the release of prisoners and the 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 to the kingdom over its rights record.

Aziz El Jacobi