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Saudi Arabia postpones death penalty hearing for reformist cleric

Sheikh Salman Al-Awdah has been imprisoned since January 2018 [Twitter]

Date of publication: 28 July, 2019

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Saudi Arabia has postponed a hearing where cleric Salman Al-Awdah was likely to be sentenced to death until December. The charges against him include “not praying enough for the ruler”.

A hearing in the case against imprisoned Saudi Sheikh Salman al-Awdah was postponed on Sunday until December, the prominent cleric's son said 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," tweeted Abdullah al-Awdah.

It is the second such postponement this year in the case of the cleric, who was arrested in September 2017 as part of a widening crackdown on dissent in the authoritarian kingdom.

The Saudi public prosecutor says that he will seek the death penalty for the 61 year old cleric, but the penalty has to be confirmed by the court.

Human rights groups have said that Awdah’s trial is politically motivated.

Awdah is associated with the reformist Sahwa movement which appeared in the 1990s. He has written hundreds of articles on Islamic law while at the same time embracing modernity and democracy.

There are 37 charges against him including “not praying enough for the ruler" and receiving text messages that "stirred discord in the region".

On Friday, Amnesty International said it was "gravely concerned" that Awdah could be 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," Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty's Middle East research head, said in a statement.

According to Amnesty, Awdah was arrested a few hours after posting a tweet calling for “harmony between people” which Saudi authorities interpreted as a call for reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Riyadh and several allies cut off all diplomatic and economic ties with Doha in June 2017, accusing it of links to Islamist extremists, a charge Qatar has categorically denied.

The cleric's family have said Saudi authorities had demanded that Awda and other prominent figures publicly back the kingdom in the dispute, but he refused.

In April 2019, Saudi authorities executed 37 citizens who had been convicted of "terrorism". Fourteen of those executed had taken part in anti-government protests in the restive Shia-majority Eastern Province.

Read more: Lies and murder - Riyadh’s war on dissent

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