Saudi regime forces have reportedly arrested a prominent cleric in the country’s oil-rich and Shia-populated Eastern Province, as the kingdom intensifies a heavy-handed crackdown against members of the religious community as well as opponents of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his policies.
Social media activists reported that the forces detained Sheikh Hassan al-Khuwailidi amid authorities’ attempts to silence influential religious scholars, and press ahead with plans aimed at transforming the the cultural setting of Saudi Arabia, which is greatly influenced by the Arab and Islamic culture, to the Western style.
The report comes as Saudi officials sentenced prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Kadhim al-Amri to four years in prison late last year.
Lebanon-based al-Ahed news website announced that the clergyman – the son of Shia cleric Sheikh Muhammad al-Omari, who is the son of the late Sheikh Muhammad al-Amri and among distinguished religious figures in the holy city of Medina – received the ruling on December 24.
A month earlier, Saudi forces had re-arrested distinguished Shia scholar Sheikh Muhammad al-Abbad in al-‘Umran city in al-Ahsa province without a warrant, and taken him away to an unknown location.
Saudi Arabia has stepped up politically-motivated arrests, prosecution, and conviction of peaceful dissident writers and human rights campaigners, in particular in Eastern Province.
The province has been the scene of peaceful demonstrations since February 2011. Protesters have been demanding reforms, freedom of expression, the release of political prisoners, and an end to economic and religious discrimination against the region.
The protests have been met with a heavy-handed crackdown, with regime forces increasing security measures across the province.
Ever since bin Salman became Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and 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.
As a result, Islamic scholars have been executed, women’s rights campaigners have been put behind bars and tortured, and freedom of expression, association, and belief continue to be denied.
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 Riyadh regime. Nimr had been arrested in Qatif in 2012.