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Saudi authorities add another 8 years to prison sentence of dissident preacher: NGO

This file picture shows Saudi police officers in the capital Riyadh. (Photo by AFP)

Saudi authorities have reportedly extended the prison sentence handed down to a prominent religious preacher as a crackdown led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman against scholars, rights activists, pro-democracy campaigners and political opponents widens in the kingdom.

The Prisoners of Conscience, an independent nongovernmental organization advocating human rights in Saudi Arabia, announced in a post on its official Twitter page that the so-called court of appeal in the capital Riyadh had ordered Sheikh Khalid al-Rashid to serve eight more years behind bars, extending his jail term to 23 years.

Sheikh Rashid was reportedly transferred from the maximum-security al-Ha'ir Prison, located approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Riyadh, to the General Directorate of Investigation on November 26 last year, despite the fact that prison authorities had warned of his poor health condition.

The Saudi preacher was initially supposed to be released in September 2020 after spending 15 years of imprisonment.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD), which is a body of independent human rights experts, has condemned his arbitrary incarceration.

Sheikh Rashid was arrested on March 19, 2006 in the holy city of Mecca, while he was performing the Umrah Hajj (minor pilgrimage) with his wife. His arrest was carried out by secret police agency (Mabahith) agents in plain clothes, who neither did present any mandate nor explained the reasons of his arrest. 

It was only a month after his arrest that his family was informed that he had been arrested and being kept in Mabahith facilities, where he was subjected to various forms of torture and ill-treatment, causing immense damage to his health.

Additionally, Saudi officials slapped a seven-year prison sentence against lawyer Mutaib Zafer al-Omari, who owns the “Future Review” Twitter account.

Social media activists believe that his detention was in reprisal for his opinions.

Earlier this month, an independent human rights organization said Saudi officials bring imprisoned political dissidents and pro-democracy campaigners, who are deprived of family visits and meetings with attorneys, to secret trials in order to conceal grave violations committed against them.

Sanad human rights organization, which defends political and civil rights in Saudi Arabia and monitors human rights violations and exposes them to public opinion as well as international organizations, said many of the inmates stand secret trials, and receive arbitrary and unfair sentences based on confessions extracted under torture.

The organization highlighted that Saudi authorities grossly mistreat imprisoned dissidents in flagrant violation of international principles, which demand justice and transparency in the criminal procedure.

Ever since bin Salman became Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader in 2017, the kingdom has arrested dozens of activists, bloggers, intellectuals and others perceived as political opponents, showing almost zero tolerance for dissent even in the face of international condemnations of the crackdown.

Muslim scholars have been executed and women’s rights campaigners have been put behind bars and tortured as freedoms of expression, association, and belief continue to be denied.

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

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