Saudi Arabia frees US citizen after nearly two years

Saudi Arabia has freed an American citizen detained for 21 months, The New York Times reported Thursday, citing two friends of the family.

Walid Fitaihi, who holds dual Saudi-American citizenship, was detained in November 2017, although the Saudi government never gave an official reason for either his detention or release and it remains unclear whether he was ever charged with a crime.

Fitaihi was apparently the only American caught up in a broad sweep conducted by the government in recent years that has resulted in the detention of hundreds, many of them dissidents, critics of the royal family and women’s rights activists.

The Times reported that Fitaihi has told a friend he was tortured by security officials in captivity, echoing complaints by relatives of others caught up in the crackdown, who say their relatives have been beaten and blindfolded during interrogations.

Fitaihi was released Wednesday evening and has returned to his family’s home in the port city of Jiddah, according to the Times, citing family friend Tarek Abou Ghazala and another friend who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In March, nine Senate Democrats petitioned for Fitaihi’s release, along with several other detainees, including human rights lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair and women’s rights activists Loujian al-Hathloul and Samar Badawi.

“Not only have reputable international organizations detailed the arbitrary detention of peaceful activists and dissidents without trial for long periods, but the systematic discrimination against women, religious minorities and mistreatment of migrant workers and others has also been well-documented,” the senators wrote in the letter.