Senior Saudi cleric taken away for ‘secret trial’

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Noted Saudi Sunni scholar Salman al-Odah.

A hugely-popular Saudi Sunni cleric, who has been imprisoned since last year for critiquing the kingdom’s policies, is reportedly taken away to attend a “secret trial.”

Salman al-Odah’s son announced the development on Twitter on Wednesday, saying his father had told him about being transferred “suddenly” from Zehban Prison in the port city of Jeddah to al-Ha’er Prison in capital Riyadh.

Abdullah Odah also cited a prison official as telling him that his father had been referred to the trial, adding, “In such a trial, no one is allowed to attend and there does not seem to be any real due process.”

“We do not trust secret and sudden trials, held without any disclosure of information, and without the presence of lawyers or independent organizations, without clear charges. We hold the government fully responsible for my father’s safety," Abdullah tweeted.

Abdullah also said he had tried to enquire about his father from prosecuting authorities, but they had told him that the matter was out of their hands and within the jurisdiction of the “security apparatus.”

The 61-year-old scholar, who has many millions of followers on Twitter, has been in jail since last September after he expressed hope for the resolution of the diplomatic crisis between the kingdom and Qatar. Four months earlier, the kingdom had led three of its allied states in breaking off their ties with the emirate.

Odah’s family have told the Middle East Eye news portal that “the scholar was held in solitary confinement in his Jeddah prison and was denied medical care and family visits for months,” the MEE reported.

His detention came as part of an arrest spree ordered by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of members of the royal family, heavy-weight businessmen, scholars, and rights activists.

The purge has been widely criticized by human rights groups as a means of solidifying Salman’s grip on power in the run-up to his ascendancy to the country’s rule.

Separately, a Twitter account reporting on Saudi “prisoners of conscience” reported the detention of Dr. Ahmad al-Amari, the former head of Medina Qur’an Academy. The activists said Amari had been nabbed for his close ties to Sheikh Safar al-Hawali, another outspoken Saudi scholar, who has likewise been imprisoned.

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