• The dual US-Saudi citizen was arrested when he landed in Riyadh to visit family
  • Almadi faced charges that included funding terrorism and working to destabilize the kingdom
  • An appeals court had increased his sentence to 19 years just a month before his release

Saad Almadi, a U.S.-Saudi citizen who was sent to jail over tweets critical of the Saudi Arabian government, was released after more than a year behind bars.

All charges against Almadi were dropped, but the 72-year-old still cannot travel back to the U.S. to reunite with his son and family because of a continued travel ban.

"All charges have been dropped but we have to fight the travel ban now," Almadi's son, Ibrahim, told Reuters.

Almadi was arrested in 2021 on several charges, including funding terrorism and working to destabilize the kingdom. A Saudi court handed him a prison sentence of 16 years along with a 16-year travel ban.

Last month, an appeals court added another three years to his sentence. But Almadi, who was facing the prospect of 19 years behind bars, was able to spend Monday night with his relatives in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

"I welcome the release of Saad Almadi, my father and best friend," Florida-based Ibrahim told the New York Post following his release. "As I always say, we are the strongest country in the world. We can protect our interests and citizens."

Almadi, who moved to the U.S. in the 1970s, was living as a retired project manager in the states when he decided to make a two-week trip in 2021 to Saudi to visit family. But Almadi never returned to the U.S. since setting foot in Riyadh on Nov. 21, 2021.

Ibrahim said he was "kidnapped" after he landed.

"From my understanding, he had been held in a hotel for a few weeks then moved to Al Ha'ir prison," Ibrahim told VICE World News in Nov. 2022.

In the prison, "he went through the torture routine for Saudi citizens who practice their freedom of speech," the son said.

Almadi's imprisonment stemmed from posts he wrote on Twitter in the past about the kingdom's governance.

The tweets, some of which date back seven years, include concerns over poverty in Saudi Arabia, criticism of the demolition of parts of Mecca and Jeddah, and also a remark about U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi, whom the U.S. intelligence community believes was murdered in 2018 based on the Saudi crown prince's orders.

A Saudi court found Almadi guilty of several charges, and the only evidence presented in the court was his 14 critical tweets, Ibrahim told BBC.

Almadi's case was among several other cases of alleged human rights abuse that affected relations between the U.S. and Saudi.

"Almadi was detained in Saudi Arabia for engaging in protected speech inside the U.S. His case is but one of many that illustrate Saudi authorities' relentless assault on human rights and fundamental freedoms," Andrea Prasow, Executive Director of the Freedom Initiative, said.

Prison sentences and travel bans placed on rights advocates and critics of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman contributed to sour relations between U.S. President Joe Biden and Saudi leaders, according to AP News. Biden had reportedly brought up the issue during his meeting with King Salman in July.

Now, both administrations have been taking measures to restore U.S.-Saudi ties.

However, it is unclear whether Almadi's release is part of a larger deal between the two nations, which are traditional allies. Both Saudi and U.S. officials did not immediately confirm or comment on his release.

"We are relieved that Saad Almadi has been released, but he should have never spent a day behind bars for innocuous tweets," Abdullah Alaoudh, Saudi director at the Freedom Initiative, said. "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. Almadi was wrongfully detained, reportedly tortured, and released only after tireless campaigning by his son and international pressure. Almadi's release shows that strategic pressure works, and U.S. officials should continue to press for release of prisoners and lifting of travel bans."

Ibrahim Almadi (L), poses for a picture with his father, Saad, at a vacation resort in Florida on June 20, 2021
Saad Almadi (R) poses with his son Ibrahim at a vacation resort in Florida on June 20, 2021. AFP