Saudi Arabia frees American imprisoned over critical tweets

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

Neither Saudi nor U.S. officials immediately confirmed the release of Saad al Madi, a longtime Florida, resident. But progress on his release had been rumored since last week.

Madi on Monday night was at home with family members who live in Riyadh, said his son, Ibrahim al Madi, in the United States. Saudi officials dropped all charges against the elder Madi, a dual U.S.-Saudi citizen. But it was not immediately clear whether the kingdom would lift a travel ban it had imposed to follow the prison sentence.

Saudi Arabia had sentenced Madi 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 President Joe Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia last summer in an attempt to improve relations with the oil-rich nation, a Saudi appeals court increased Madi’s prison sentence to 19 years.

The case had been one of many alleged human rights abuses souring relations between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Biden.

Freedom Initiative, a U.S.-based group that advocates for detainees it says are unjustly detained in the Middle East, 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.

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