Saudi preacher sentenced to prison for ‘visiting book fair’

Saudi preacher Yousef al-Ahmad.

A Saudi court has sentenced cleric Yousef al-Ahmad, detained since September 2017, to four years in prison.

The judgment also included a travel ban for four years after the preacher’s release from prison.

The Prisoners of Conscience Twitter account said the charges against Ahmad included attending a book fair and visiting detainees in prison.

Ahmad was previously arrested in 2011 after criticizing the detention of security suspects without charge or trial and sentenced to five years in jail for “incitement against the ruler” and “sewing sedition.”

He was later granted a royal pardon by the then-King, Abbdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud,  in November 2012.

A general view of Ha’er Prison in Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)

In the past, Ahmad’s views have proved controversial as the cleric has repeatedly rejected “westernization” by the Saudi government. 

The preacher holds a Ph.D. in jurisprudence and worked as a professor at Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud University Islamic in Riyadh.

Scholar Salman al-Odah.

Saudi scholar Salman al-Ouda.

Salman al-Odah is an internationally renowned scholar and cleric known for his progressive views.

The scholar was arrested in September 2017, shortly after tweeting a prayer for reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, three months after Riyadh launched a blockade against Doha.

On Wednesday, Abdullah al-Odah, the son of Salman al-Odah, wrote a column for the New York Times in which he said that Saudi authorities were “slowly killing” his father.

Saudi scholar Salman al-Ouda.

“During the first five months of his detention, in Dhahban prison in Jeddah, guards shackled his feet with chains and blindfolded him while moving him between interrogation rooms and his cell,” Odah said. 

“On one occasion, the guards threw a plastic bag of food at him without removing his handcuffs. He was coerced to open the bag and remove the food with his mouth, causing considerable damage to his teeth.”

Other activists.

Last week, jailed Saudi rights activist Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani launched a hunger strike in protest against the conditions in the notorious al-Hair prison near Riyadh.

Saudi rights activist Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani.

Qahtani’s friend and colleague Abdullah al-Hamid, a well-known professor and poet who had been held at al-Hair since 2013, died in April in what rights groups said resulted from “deliberate medical neglect.”

Abdullah al-Hamid, Saudi reformer, 1951-2020 | Financial Times
Abdullah al-Hamid was a Saudi poet and human rights activist who died in al-Hair prison due to “deliberate medical neglect.”

According to observers, there are various reasons behind the authorities’ arrest campaign against Saudi preachers and scholars.

The most prominent of which is the denial of many intellectuals to abide by the royal court’s orders on attacking Qatar.

Other reasons include Mohammed Bin Salman’s (MbS) attempt to crush internal opposition to his inauguration as king.

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