Prosecutors in Saudi Arabia have called for the execution of prominent Saudi cleric Salman al-Ouda based on the Islamic legal principle of ta’zir, according to activists and members of his family. On September 4, the Saudi newspaper Okaz reported that prosecutors had charged al-Ouda with 37 counts related to tweeting, and called for “the death penalty” one year after his arrest. His son said in a tweet that the charges against his father include “organizing a committee to defend the Prophet, [and] being a member of the Union of the Muslim Scholars,” along with other charges related to tweeting against “tyranny.”
Al-Ouda is the Assistant Secretary-General of the International Union of Muslim Scholars. On September 8, he tweeted: “Oh God, set their hearts for the good of their people” as a call for Gulf reconciliation with Qatar. Al-Ouda has 14.2 million followers on Twitter. The Kingdom’s population is classified as the highest-ranked social media users in the Middle East, but sanctions against critics of the regime discourage freedom of speech, and do not permit opposition to or criticism of the regime.
“The prosecution also called for the killing of Sheikh Awad al-Qarni and Dr. Ali al-Amari and called for the imprisonment of the remaining people who face very long periods of time.”
The Saudi authorities have begun to try a number of arrested clerics such as Salman al-Ouda, Ali al-Amri, and Awad al-Qarni. “The prosecution also called for the killing of Sheikh Awad al-Qarni and Dr. Ali al-Amari and called for the imprisonment of the remaining people who face very long periods of time,” the al-Ouda’s son said in a tweet. Prisoners of Conscious tweeted an updated list of “104 academic figures, sheikhs, clerics, and activists arbitrarily detained within a year,” between September 9, 2017, and September 9, 2018.
The London-based human rights organization ALQST tweeted: “Dr. Salman al-Ouda is charged with seeking to spread sedition and incitement against the ruler.”
Saudi Arabia claims to be undergoing a comprehensive reform program in an effort to modernize some aspects of its conservative society. The kingdom’s position is that its harsh human rights actions are paving the way for “moderation, modernization, and reform.”
But the Saudi regime is facing a deeper problem with regard to the nature and structure of the Saudi regime itself. The structure is based on an alliance between Abdulaziz al-Saud, the founder of the third dynasty, and the founder of Wahhabist Salafism, Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab, rendering the prospect of real reform illusory.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has instituted reforms such as “allowing women to drive, limiting power of religious police, allowing artists to perform in concerts, and lifting the ban on cinemas.” These apparent steps toward liberalization are undercut by bin Salman’s other actions, such as detaining dozens of princes and senior officials in Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton hotel for over two months. Not only did he detain them without any apparent due process under the pretext of a corruption crackdown, he also orchestrated confiscating part of their wealth as a condition of their release. Measures like these do not reflect a real will to put an end to corruption.
“Saudi authorities in 2018 continued to arbitrarily arrest, try, and convict peaceful dissidents. Dozens of human rights defenders and activists are serving long prison sentences for criticizing authorities or advocating political and rights reforms. Authorities systematically discriminate against women and religious minorities. In 2017, Saudi Arabia carried out 146 executions, 59 for non-violent drug crimes,” according to Human Rights Watch.
Ali al-Qaradaghi, the Secretary General of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, commented on the charges against al-Ouda in a tweet: “Sheikh [Cleric] al-Ouda is a leader of moderation.” He considers that al-Ouda is loved by all those who love science and religion and is only hated by those who hate religion and devout people.
Earlier, UN experts described Salman al-Ouda as a “reformist” and condemned the kingdom’s “continued use of counter-terrorism and security-related laws against human rights defenders, urging it to end the repression and release all those detained for peacefully exercising their rights.”
The Saudi authorities arrested al-Ouda on September 7, 2017, and imposed an arbitrary travel ban on his immediate relatives. They also arrested a number of prominent Islamic clerics such as Awad al-Qarni, Farhan al-Maliki, Mustafa Hassan, and Safar al-Hawali.
Al-Ouda was previously imprisoned from 1994 to 1999 on charges of “inciting opposition to the Saudi government,” and, as a result, became one of the most prominent clerics in the kingdom. During the 1990s, al-Ouda represented an important component of the conservative movement, known as the Sahwa, which was associated with the Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The accusations made by prosecutors against advocates and clerics such as al-Amri are based entirely on religio-political reasons. Al-Amri was charged with forming a terrorist organization affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Saudi Arabia and 30 other charges, according to a tweet posted by the Prisoners of Conscience and Okaz newspaper.
Saudi Arabia, one of the few remaining absolute monarchies, prohibits public protests and political opposition. The regime arrested dozens of religious leaders, intellectuals, and women’s rights activists last year. In 2016, Saudi authorities called for the death penalty for a number of opponents, including Cleric Namr al-Namr and four others.
In August of this year alone, Saudi authorities sought the death penalty for five human rights activists from the eastern region of the kingdom. A Saudi prosecutor recommended the death sentence for Israa al-Ghamgam and four other activists from the country’s Shia Muslim minority on a collection of somewhat vague charges, according to Human Rights Watch. After more than three years in pre-trial detention, al-Ghomgham, 29 years old, may become one of the first women sentenced to death for peaceful activism. Al-Ghomgham’s trial is expected to go forward in October.