Saudi Arabia Frees Doctor With U.S. Citizenship After 21 Months


BEIRUT, Lebanon — Saudi Arabia has freed a doctor with dual Saudi-American citizenship after he was detained for 21 months and reportedly tortured, two friends of the family said on Thursday.

The Saudis first detained Dr. Walid Fitaihi in November 2017 amid what the government called a crackdown on corruption. Despite Dr. Fitaihi’s lengthy detention, the Saudi government has never explained the reason for his arrest and has not said whether he was ever charged with a crime.

On Thursday, a Saudi official said that Mr. Fitaihi had been released pending trial, in part because of a provision in the kingdom’s counterterrorism and terrorism finance law, suggesting that he faced charges connected to that law.

He is one of hundreds of Saudis who have been detained in recent years as Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has secured his grip on power. The detainees have included prominent businessmen and government ministers, members of the royal family, clerics, intellectuals and activists who have campaigned against the kingdom’s restrictions on women.

Dr. Fitaihi is the only widely known case of an American caught up in the crackdown; he was imprisoned for a time in the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh. United States diplomats pushed quietly for his release, but he received little public support from President Trump, who has worked for the release of other Americans and dual citizens held by both friends and foes of the United States.

The Trump administration has come to see Saudi Arabia under Prince Mohammed as an important Middle East partner in its push for a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians and in its efforts to curb Iran’s influence in the region.

Dr. Fitaihi was born in Saudi Arabia and became an American citizen while studying and practicing medicine in the Boston area. He later returned to Saudi Arabia, where he ran a private hospital and built a large following as a television host and motivational speaker.

He was arrested at his home in Jidda, on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, in November 2017, when officials from the kingdom’s Royal Court and secret police were rounding up hundreds of Saudi citizens as part of what officials called an anticorruption drive.

About a week after his arrest, Dr. Fitaihi was taken from his room at the Ritz by security officials, who slapped and blindfolded him and stripped him down to his underwear, he later told a friend. He said he was bound to a chair, given electric shocks and severely beaten during a torture session that lasted about an hour.

The relatives of others detained in the crackdown also complained of mistreatment, reporting beatings and the use of blindfolds during interrogations. Saudi officials have denied that any of the detainees were mistreated.

While most of those detained in the crackdown were released after a few months, Dr. Fitaihi’s detention dragged on for reasons that were never made clear.

Dr. Fitaihi was released on Wednesday evening and returned to his home in Jidda to be with his family, according to Tarek Abou Ghazala, a friend, and another friend of Dr. Fitaihi’s family who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions from the Saudi authorities.

The conditions of his release were not clear.

Source : Nytimes