A Saudi-American dual citizen who spent more than a year in a Saudi prison over Twitter posts critical of the kingdom’s government was released from detention on Tuesday, but will not be able to leave the country, according to his son.
Saad Almadi, a 72-year-old Florida resident, is staying with family members in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, his son, Ibrahim Almadi, said by telephone from Washington. The younger Mr. Almadi said he would continue to campaign to overturn a Saudi bar on his father leaving the kingdom.
“The fight will continue and hopefully we’ll have him back soon,” he said.
Mr. Almadi, a retired project manager, was one of several U.S. citizens and hundreds of Saudis caught up in a deepening crackdown on dissent under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He was arrested during a visit to Saudi Arabia in 2021.
Prosecutors cited Twitter posts he wrote that were critical of the Saudi government and an “insulting picture” of Prince Mohammed saved on his phone as proof that he had “adopted a terrorist agenda by defaming symbols of the state,” according to court documents. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison, lengthened on appeal last month to 19 years.
The younger Mr. Almadi said he did not know why his father had been freed; many Saudis convicted of similar charges remain in prison. But the release came days before the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, viewed as a time for mercy and repentance. The Saudi government’s Center for International Communication and the Saudi Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“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 at the Freedom Initiative, a human rights group, in a statement. “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.”
U.S. officials had lobbied on behalf of Mr. Almadi for months without a breakthrough. “We consistently raise our concerns regarding this case at senior levels of the Saudi government in both Washington and Riyadh and will continue to do so,” the State Department said in a statement last month.
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His release comes as relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States appear to be improving after hitting a nadir last year during a spat over oil production cuts that were opposed by the Biden administration. Last week, the U.S. Senate confirmed a new ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Michael Ratney, after the post had been vacant for years, and Saudi Arabia announced a multibillion-dollar deal to order 39 jets from Boeing, a U.S. company.
Like Mr. Almadi, other Saudi-American dual nationals who were released after being imprisoned in the crackdown have faced restrictions on leaving the country. Among them was Salah al-Haidar, a U.S. citizen and the son of a prominent Saudi women’s rights activist, Aziza al-Yousef. Both mother and son have been stuck in the kingdom for years, separated from family members in the United States.
Saudi Arabia has always been an authoritarian monarchy, with limits on freedom of speech loosening and tightening from one era to another.
But under Prince Mohammed, 37, who is the prime minister and de facto ruler, harsher punishments have been meted out to those who criticize the government, with less prominent citizens increasingly facing trial. All that comes as he pursues an ambitious plan to diversify the oil-dependent economy, ending a slew of religious restrictions and granting Saudis greater social freedoms.
Saudis who remain imprisoned in similar cases include Salma al-Shehab, a Saudi doctoral student at Leeds University in Britain, who was sentenced to 34 years in prison last year, largely in relation to following Saudi dissidents on Twitter and sharing their posts, according to a copy of the verdict.
Mohammed al-Rabiah, a leftist intellectual and supporter of some detained women’s rights activists, has been imprisoned since 2018, with his sentence lengthened to 17 years on appeal last year. Among his crimes, according to court documents, was speaking to a foreign journalist about other detainees and signing a petition more than a decade ago calling for a constitutional monarchy.
Last month, a Saudi official said in a statement to The New York Times that the government was studying and putting in place measures to enhance human rights, including changes to the judicial system. Speaking on the condition of anonymity in line with government protocol, the official did not respond to questions about specific prisoners, including Ms. al-Shehab and Mr. al-Rabiah, saying only that “cases of individuals that violate national laws are clearly differentiated from peaceful expressions of opinion.”