Saudi Arabian authorities must release a prominent reformist cleric who has been held in solitary confinement for five months without charge or trial, Amnesty International said today amid growing fears for his health.
Sheikh Salman al-Awda’s family learnt yesterday that he has been hospitalized in the city of Jeddah. His family have not been given further details of his condition.
Sheikh Salman al-Awda was arrested on 7 September 2017 and has been prevented from communicating with the outside world since October. His arrest appears to have stemmed from a tweet he posted endorsing warmer relations with Qatar,
“The hospitalization of Sheikh Salman al-Awda, aside from being deeply worrying and traumatic for his family, highlights his shameful treatment by the Saudi authorities,” said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Campaigns Director.
“Five months after being arrested merely for exercising his right to freedom of expression, he remains held without charge or trial in cruel and inhuman conditions.
“The authorities must ensure that he receives all necessary medical treatment, that he is allowed to communicate with his family and a lawyer, and – above all – that he is released from detention.”
Sheikh Salman al-Awda was arrested from his home without a warrant a few hours after he posted a tweet reacting to a news story about Saudi Arabia and Qatar possibly reconciling amid an ongoing diplomatic crisis. He wrote, “May God harmonize between their hearts for what is good for their people”.
According to his family, Sheikh Salman al-Awda and other prominent figures had been asked by the authorities to tweet in support of the government of Saudi Arabia during the crisis with Qatar, but he had refused.
Since his arrest, Sheikh Salman al-Awda has not been allowed any contact with his family except for one brief phone call in late October. However, yesterday his relatives were told he had been hospitalized for an unknown reason.
“We do not know what he is being treated for and the authorities have refused to allow us to communicate with him. We learnt that he was not in a good condition, but the government has not allowed us to communicate with him” a family member told Amnesty International.
The arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of Sheikh Salman al-Awda, apparently in retaliation for peacefully expressing his views, violates international law.
“The arrest of Sheikh Salman al-Awda appears to be part of a wider crackdown by the Saudi Arabian authorities on freedom of expression in the country. All those imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly must be immediately and unconditionally released,” said Samah Hadid.
More than 20 prominent religious figures, writers, journalists, academics and activists were detained at around the same time as Sheikh Salman al-Awda in September last year. The reasons for these arrests remain unclear
A few hours after Sheikh Salman al-Awda’s arrest, his brother Khalid al-Awda was also arbitrarily detained after posting a tweet condemning his sibling’s detention. State security officers later searched Salman al-Awda’s home, confiscating books and electronic devices.
Sheikh Salman al-Awda’s immediate family members have all been arbitrarily banned from travelling abroad.
Amnesty International raised its concern in 2017 about the Saudi Arabian government stepping up its crackdown on human rights activists. Among those arrested throughout the year are Abdullah al-Maliki, a pro-reform academic and writer known for his support for human rights, and Essam al-Zamel, an entrepreneur who also has written about the need for economic reform in Saudi Arabia.
Abdulaziz al-Shubaily and Issa al-Hamid, founding members of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), were arrested in September in an ongoing crackdown on Saudi Arabian human rights defenders. ACPRA is an independent human rights organization which was dissolved by the Saudi Arabian authorities in 2013.
Last week, UN experts called for the release of all those detained for peacefully exercising their rights in Saudi Arabia in what they described as a “worrying pattern of widespread and systematic arbitrary arrests and detention”.
Last November, following a royal decree establishing an anti-corruption committee, the authorities detained hundreds of current and former officials and businessmen without disclosing details about the charges, if any, that had been brought against them.