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Saudi court postpones hearing of prominent dissident cleric Awdah

Imprisoned Saudi Muslim cleric Sheikh Salman al-Awdah (file photo)

Saudi Arabia’s Specialized Criminal Court has postponed a hearing in the case against prominent Saudi dissident Muslim cleric Sheikh Salman al-Awdah until later this year amid growing concerns he will be sentenced to death.

“My father was not brought to the court and the session was postponed. The next session is going to be in December,” the 62-year-old cleric’s son Abdullah al-Awdah wrote in a Twitter post on Sunday.

Amnesty International on Friday warned the Saudi regime against executing the dissident cleric, calling on Riyadh to drop the politically-motivated charges leveled against him.

“We are gravely concerned that Sheikh Salman al-Awdah could be sentenced to death and executed. Since his arrest almost two years ago, Sheikh al-Awdah has gone through a terrible ordeal, including prolonged pre-trial detention, months of solitary confinement, incommunicado detention, and other ill-treatment – all flagrant violations to his right to a fair trial,” Lynn Maalouf, the Middle East Research Director at Amnesty International, said.

The Arabic-language Saudi newspaper Okaz reported on September 4, 2018 that Saudi public prosecutors had leveled 37 counts against Awdah, and even demanded his execution.

Saudi authorities detained the prominent Muslim scholar on September 7 last year and have been holding him in solitary confinement without charge or trial ever since. Officials have imposed travel bans on members of his family as well.

A family member told Human Rights Watch that the distinguished cleric was being held over his refusal to comply with an order by Saudi authorities to tweet a specific text to support the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar.

Awdah, instead, posted a tweet, saying, “May God harmonize between their hearts for the good of their people,” - an apparent call for reconciliation between the Persian Gulf littoral states, the US-based rights group said in a statement.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt all cut off diplomatic ties with Qatar on June 5 last year, after officially accusing it of “sponsoring terrorism.”

Qatar said the move was unjustified and based on false claims and assumptions.

Saudi Arabia has lately stepped up politically-motivated arrests, prosecution and conviction of peaceful dissident writers and human rights campaigners.

Saudi officials have also intensified security measures in the Shia-populated and oil-rich Eastern Province.

Over the past years, Riyadh has also redefined its anti-terrorism laws to target activism.

In January 2016, Saudi authorities executed Shia cleric, Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, who was an outspoken critic of the policies of the Riyadh regime. Nimr had been arrested in Qatif in 2012.

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