A prominent Saudi reformist cleric has reportedly been hospitalized after five months of solitary confinement without charge or trial.
A tweet that endorsed peace and tolerance.
Amnesty International has called on Saudi authorities to release Sheikh Salman al-Awda amid growing concerns for his health.
Al-Awda was arrested last September along with several other progressive religious leaders in what was called a crackdown on critics of the conservative kingdom’s absolute rulers.
The cleric's troubles began with a tweet that referred to Saudi Arabia's diplomatic fallout with Qatar last June. Al-Awda reportedly posted a news story about a possible reconciliation between the two countries with an accompanying message that read, according to Amnesty International, “May God harmonize between their hearts for what is good for their people.”
Within a few hours, he was arrested at his home without a warrant.
This reckless disregard of freedom of speech is not new when it comes to Saudi Arabia.
The Gulf kingdom is notorious for arresting and punishing individuals who are critical of the government and Wahhabism (the ultraconservative form of Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia.) However, al-Awda's case has shocked many because his tweet wasn't anti-government or anti-religion. It was pro-peace.
Yet, he was put in solitary confinement and wasn't even allowed to communicate with his family and a lawyer.
Shortly after his arrest, reports emerged about al-Awada going on a hunger strike.
He was only allowed one brief phone call in late October. Recently, his family learned he has been hospitalized in Jeddah. No details were disclosed about his condition.
“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,” Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East Campaigns Director, said in a statement.
“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,” Hadid added.
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