The potential execution by Saudi authorities of the detained scholar Salman al-Awdah would amount to “state-sanctioned murder”, his son has warned.
In an op-ed published in the Guardian newspaper on Tuesday, Abdullah al-Awdah said the arrest and possible execution of his father is part of a concerted effort by Saudi Arabia to “quash dissent and silence political activists and human rights defenders”.
An internationally acclaimed religious scholar described by UN experts as a reformist, al-Awdah was arrested in September 2017 over a tweet in which he called for reconciliation with Qatar, according to Human Rights Watch.
Riyadh had a few months earlier cut ties with Doha and imposed a land, sea and air blockade on its neighbour, accusing it of sponsoring terrorism and destabilising the region. Qatar has consistently denied the allegations.
“Since Mohammed bin Salman came to power in Saudi Arabia in 2017 there appears to have been a marked increase in the number of executions,” al-Awdah wrote in the op-ed.
“In 2010, there were just 27 confirmed. In 2015, 158 people were executed, most of whom had participated in Arab spring protests a few years earlier.”
“But this year there have already been 134 victims, with at least 24 more at risk of imminent execution, including my father.”
At a court hearing in May, Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor requested the death penalty for al-Awdah on charges that include “spreading discord and incitement against the ruler”.
In late July, a court postponed the trial of al-Awdah until November.
In the 1990s, Al-Awdah was a leader of the Sahwa movement, which criticised the Saudi government and called for political change in the country. As a result of his activism, Al-Awdah was thrown in prison from 1994 to 1999.
After his release, he distanced himself from his former views, denounced “extremist” violence, and made a number of statements over the course of the next two decades that earned him a reputation as a progressive leader.
In 2016 during a trip to Sweden, he said that homosexuality, while still considered a sin in Islam, should not be punished.
Al-Awdah had also called for greater democracy, which was seen as a threat in Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy.
In Tuesday’s opinion piece, Abdullah al-Awdah lamented the harsh conditions he father was being held in, regretting that family members were also being punished.
“Since his arrest, he has been held in solitary confinement, where he remains today. He has been mistreated, handcuffed, blindfolded and chained inside his cell, and deprived of sleep and medication,” he wrote.
“Seventeen members of my family have been banned from travelling, my uncle Khaled was arrested because he tweeted about my father; and I was asked by the Saudi Embassy in Washington to go back to Saudi Arabia to ‘renew my passport,’ which has been frozen.”