(Dubai) An American citizen, sentenced to 19 years in prison in Saudi Arabia for criticizing the kingdom’s authorities on Twitter, has been released, his son announced on Tuesday, who now wants to press for his return to the United States.

Saad Ibrahim Almadi, a 72-year-old American of Saudi origin, was arrested in 2021 for tweets against the Gulf monarchy, according to his son Ibrahim, who only sees posts with a “moderate” tone.

Since his arrest, confirmed by the US State Department, the Saudi authorities have remained silent.

Saad Ibrahim Almadi was sentenced in October 2022 to 16 years in prison, a sentence extended to 19 years last February on appeal, before his surprise release overnight from Monday to Tuesday, Ibrahim told AFP, reached by telephone. from the United States.

“He was released five hours ago. He is at home in Riyadh,” he added.

According to him, Saad Ibrahim Almadi cannot leave Saudi territory due to a travel ban imposed on him last year.

Ibrahim said he now wants to push for his father’s return to the United States so he can be treated for back problems and diabetes.

“The fight continues… He needs to come back for treatment in the United States,” he said.

The arrest of Saad Ibrahim Almadi came at a time when relations between Riyadh and Washington were already strained due in particular to disagreements on energy policy and the question of human rights.

In 2022, the State Department said it had raised “concerns” with the Saudi government about the American, saying “the exercise of free speech should never be criminalized.”

On Tuesday, the State Department welcomed the release while declining to provide details in the name of privacy protection.

“We are aware of reports of the release of a US citizen from prison in Saudi Arabia and, of course, we welcome this news,” spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

The kingdom is regularly singled out by human rights organizations for serious violations, including its crackdown on political dissidents and feminist activists.

He has been criticized in particular in recent months for the severe sentences imposed on people who have expressed criticism against the power on social networks.

In September, Nourah al-Qahtani, a Saudi mother of five, was sentenced to 45 years in prison for “challenging” the king and crown prince on Twitter, according to court documents seen by AFP.

A month earlier, Salma al-Chehab, a doctoral student in dentistry at the University of Leeds in England, had been sentenced to 34 years in prison for helping “those who seek to disturb public order” by sharing their tweets on his personal account, according to the same source.

Ibrahim Almadi gave AFP a list of tweets last year that he said were used as evidence against his father.

These include publications on rising taxes, controversial demolition work in Saudi Arabia and the 2018 assassination of critical journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul.

Authorities also found an unflattering cartoon of the kingdom’s crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, on Saad Ibrahim Almadi’s phone, according to his son.

Ibrahim said his father had made a commitment to the authorities not to talk about the case after his release, which could not be independently verified by AFP.

The authorities “made him sign a document in which he pledged not to speak publicly […] about his release. So this is me talking about this case because I want to push for him to come home,” he said.