Saudi authorities have transferred three prominent dissident clerics to the capital ahead of their trials, as the Riyadh regime presses ahead with its crackdown on pro-democracy campaigners in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
The rights group Prisoners of Conscience, which is an independent non-governmental organization advocating human rights in Saudi Arabia, announced in a post on its official Twitter page on Thursday that Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, Sheikh Awad al-Qarni and Sheikh Safar al-Hawali have been moved to Riyadh to stand trial within the next few days.
🔴BREAKING— Prisoners of Conscie (@m3takl_en) September 19, 2019
We confirm that Sheikh Salman al-Odah was also transferred today to Riyadh in order to put him to trial in the next few days. pic.twitter.com/XSlPBIYDX0
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, 2017, after officially accusing it of “sponsoring terrorism.”
Qatar said the move was unjustified and based on false claims and assumptions.
🔴 BREAKING— Prisoners of Conscie (@m3takl_en) September 19, 2019
We confirm that Sheikh Safar al-Hawali was transferred today to Riyadh in order to put him to trial in the next few days. pic.twitter.com/i66IBf00LP
Sheikh Hawali, known for his chronic opposition to some of the kingdom’s policies and the presence of American troops on Saudi soil, was arrested on July 12, 2018.
In the 1990s, he was jailed for opposing the Saudi ties with US troops leading a military operation in Kuwait. In 1993, the cleric was banned from public speaking and dismissed from his academic posts on suspicion of attempting to incite civil disobedience. In 1994, the Islamic scholar was once again arrested, but was soon released.
Saudi Arabia has lately stepped up politically-motivated arrests, prosecution and conviction of peaceful dissidents and human rights campaigners.
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, Eastern Province, in 2012.