American citizen held in Saudi Arabia for 21 months is released from prison

By KAREEM FAHIM | The Washington Post | Published: August 2, 2019

ISTANBUL — Walid Fitaihi, a dual U.S.-Saudi citizen who was jailed in Saudi Arabia for nearly two years without trial, has been temporarily released from custody but is still facing criminal charges in the kingdom, according to a Saudi official and two associates of Fitaihi's family.

Fitaihi, a U.S.-educated doctor and founder of a prominent Saudi hospital, was released Wednesday and spent the night at home with his family in the coastal city of Jiddah, according to one of the associates. Both family associates spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.

Fitaihi was detained in November 2017 as Saudi authorities arrested hundreds of business executives, government officials and royal family members and imprisoned them at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh. He later told a family member that he was tortured in custody.

A Saudi official said in an emailed statement that Fitaihi had been "temporarily released from detention pending his trial." The statement did not disclose the exact charges he was facing but said they were in accordance with Saudi Arabia's "Law of Criminal Procedures and article 93 of the Law on Counter Terrorism and Its Financing."

"Any allegations that Mr. Fitaihi was subjected to torture during his detention are without foundation," the statement added.

A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment on Fitaihi's status.

Fitaihi's lengthy detention had added to congressional anger at Saudi Arabia after the slaying of Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident and Washington Post contributing columnist who was killed and dismembered by Saudi agents in Istanbul last fall.

Although Fitaihi's family had initially avoided publicity, his son, Ahmad Fitaihi, eventually lobbied the Trump administration and members of Congress to intervene in the case and testified on Capitol Hill about his father's treatment while in custody.

President Donald Trump has steadfastly defended Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and shielded Saudi Arabia from efforts by Congress to punish the kingdom for the killing of Khashoggi, as well as its military intervention in Yemen's calamitous civil war.

The crown prince has also faced criticism from Congress for Saudi Arabia's arrest and alleged torture of prominent women's rights advocates. Saudi officials have denied abusing detainees.

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