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Saudi Arabia extends top dissident cleric’s prison sentence for 4 more years

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)
Imprisoned renowned dissident Saudi cleric Sheikh Suleiman al-Alwan (Photo via Twitter)

Saudi authorities have extended the prison sentence of a renowned dissident cleric by four more years, as a crackdown led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman against pro-democracy campaigners, Muslim preachers and intellectuals continues in the country.

The rights group Prisoners of Conscience, which is an independent non-governmental organization seeking to promote human rights in Saudi Arabia, announced in a post on its official Twitter page that the officials had ordered Sheikh Suleiman al-Alwan to serve four more years in jail, just after he completed his 15-year prison sentence.

Sheikh al-Alwan, a specialist in modern science and jurisprudence, is known for his lessons and books, which received praise from leading Saudi scholars, including the kingdom’s late Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz ibn Abdullah ibn Baz.

He has long been involved in jurisprudential disputes with members of Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority, known as the Council of Senior Scholars, on several issues.

Back in 2004, Sheikh al-Alwan was arrested for refusing to issue a fatwa (religious decree) in favor of the ruling House of Saud. He was held in prison incommunicado up until December 2012.

Saudi authorities released the clergyman in 2013, but the Specialized Criminal Court upheld a 15-year prison sentence against him from the date of his arrest in 2004.

The court charged Sheikh Alwan with money laundering, meeting with dissidents and opposition figures, financing terrorism and bomb attacks, and issuing fatwas in rejection of those released by the Council of Senior Scholars.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and de facto ruler, Mohammed bin Salman, has sought to present himself as a reformist since being appointed heir to the throne in 2017.

Critics, however, say the jailing of activists under his watch and the treatment of dissidents, including prominent  journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered at the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul on October 2 last year, suggests that Riyadh only wants change on its terms.

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

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

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