Saudi Arabia: Prominent reformist cleric faces death sentence for his peaceful activism
Following the Saudi Public Prosecutor’s call to execute the prominent religious reformist cleric Sheikh Salman al-Awda, and ahead of his trial set to take place at the anti-terror court known as Specialized Criminal Court (SCC) on 28 July 2019, Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director said:
“We are gravely concerned that Sheikh Salman al-Awda could be sentenced to death and executed. Since his arrest almost two years ago, Sheikh al-Awda has gone through a terrible ordeal including prolonged pre-trial detention, months of solitary confinement, incommunicado detention, and other ill-treatment – all flagrant violations to his right to a fair trial.
“The Saudi authorities continue to claim that they are fighting ‘terrorism’ when this trial, as well as those of other activists, including the 37 men who were executed last April, are clearly politically-motivated and meant to silence independent voices in the country.
“Sheikh al-Awda has been calling for a more inclusive society that would end the marginalization of Saudi Shi’a citizens. For this, he is being punished. In the same way, women and advocates of women’s rights who have called for greater rights, are similarly being punished. What gains are the authorities hoping to achieve by treating their own citizens this way? Instead of moving ahead with this sham trial, they must immediately and unconditionally release Sheikh al-Awda and drop all charges against him.”
On 7 September 2017, state security officials arrested Sheikh Salman al-Awda, 61, from his home without a warrant, a few hours after he posted a tweet encouraging the Qatari and Saudi Arabian authorities to end their diplomatic stand-off. In November 2017, men in civilian clothing and balaclavas who were believed to be from the state security directorate searched his house without a warrant, and confiscating electronic devices and books.
He was detained incommunicado and in solitary confinement for the first five months of his detention, with no access to his family or a lawyer, except for one brief phone call a month after his arrest. In January 2018, he was hospitalized as his health was deteriorating. He was only allowed to call his family a month later.
In August 2018, Sheikh Salman al-Awda was brought to trial before the SCC in a secret session, where he was charged on 37 counts, including affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, and calling for government reforms and “regime change” in the Arab region. In May 2019, he was brought to another trial in a secret session, after which his lawyer informed the family that the Public Prosecutor had sought the death penalty.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception regardless of the nature of the crime, the characteristics of the offender, or the method used by the state to kill the prisoner. The death penalty is a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.