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Reformist Saudi cleric Salman al-Awdah heard from inside prison for first time Open in fullscreen

The New Arab

Reformist Saudi cleric Salman al-Awdah heard from inside prison for first time

Awdah was arrested in 2017 as part of a sweeping crackdown on dissent [Twitter]

Date of publication: 14 May, 2020

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Jailed Saudi cleric Salman al-Awdah spoke with his mother and daughter from inside a Saudi prison, his relatives have confirmed.
A recording of prominent Saudi cleric Salman al-Awdah has been heard from inside Saudi prison for the first time since his arrest.

The detained cleric spoke on the phone to his mother and daughter Ghada, a video shared by the Prisoners of Conscious Twitter account shows.

"I'm doing well, praise be to God," Awdah tells his family in the phone call in which they discuss Ramadan under coronavirus lockdown.

Awdah's mother and daughter ask after his health and well being, to which he replies: "Yes I'm fine, don't worry about me. How are you?"

The scholar's insistence on small talk could be due to his phone call being monitored by the prison authorities.

The call's authenticity was confirmed to The New Arab's Arabic language-service by close family members.

This is the first recording of the reformist sheikh since September 2017, when he and 20 others, 
including writers and journalists, were arrested as part of a crackdown on dissent in the ultra-conservative kingdom. 

Both Awdah's family and Saudi media have previously said the jailed cleric faces the death penalty, but the charge sheet has not yet been made public.

According to Awdah's US-based son Abdullah Al-Awdah, the cleric has been subject to "treatment internationally classified as torture", including sleep deprivation, lack of healthcare and arduous interrogations.

Human rights groups have said the trial is a political reprisal against Awdah, a leading figure in a 1990s Islamist movement associated with the Muslim Brotherhood. He has written hundreds of articles on Islamic law while at the same time embracing modernity and democracy.

Awdah's case attracted international attention in 2018 when Saudi Arabia's Public Prosecution levelled 37 charges against him, including "not praying enough to the ruler" and receiving text messages that "stirred discord in the region".

Read more: Saudi police drag stranded Egyptian who threatened 'repatriation riots' amid coronavirus pandemic
 
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 Awdah and other prominent figures publicly back the kingdom in the dispute, but he refused.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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