The Imam and Khatib of Al-Masjid al-Haram sentenced to 10 years in prison

The Saudi Court of Appeals has sentenced Sheikh Saleh Al-Talib, a prominent imam and preacher at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, to ten years in prison, a human rights organization said yesterday.

The organization said the Court of Appeal overturned the Specialized Criminal Court’s decision acquitting Sheikh Al-Talib of the charges against him.

Forty-eight-year-old Al-Talib was originally arrested 4 years ago, in August 2018, but no official explanation was issued for his arrest. He was an imam in Makkah at the time.

However at the time, the social media advocacy group Prisoners of Conscience, which monitors and documents the arrest of Saudi preachers and religious scholars, said Al-Talib was arrested after he delivered a sermon on the duty in Islam to speak out against evil in public. While there was no direct criticism of the Saudi royal family in his speech, the kingdom has in recent months relaxed laws on female attendance at public events. Hours after his reported arrest in 2018, both of al-Talib’s Engish and Arabic Twitter accounts were deactivated.

Saudi Arabia has arrested dozens of preachers since the summer of 2017. Some for publicly calling for reconciliation between Gulf states when Saudi was spearheading a siege on neighboring Qatar. Several years after the end of the boycott, the clerics remain in jail. Among them is the famous scholar, Shaykh Saleh Al Munajjid, founder of the famous Islamic religious verdict website – Islam Q&A.

Shaykh Saleh Al Munajjid

According to the advocacy Twitter page, ‘Mu’taqilī al-Ra’ī‘ or ‘Prisoners of Conscience’, Saudi authorities have arrested the world-renowned scholar of Syrian heritage and Saudi residence, Shaykh Muhammad Saleh al-Munajjid after a systematic social-media campaign against him. The account, which is dedicated to determining those arrested due to their religious or political views inside the Kingdom confirmed the arrest of the Shaykh on the 18th of September 2017.

In recent weeks, Saudi authorities have arrested scores of scholars and activists in what is seen as a significant shift in internal policy led by Crown-Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The measures have been dubbed by some as a precursor to introducing more secular-leaning laws. Shaykh Salman al-Awda, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Amri, were also amongst those arrested in a less recent spree.

57-year-old Shaykh al-Munajjid has studied under some of Saudi Arabia’s most celebrated scholars of recent times including Shaykh Muhammad ibn Uthaymeen, Shaykh Abdullah ibn Jibreen, Shaykh Saleh al-Fawzan, Shaykh Nasser al-Albani, and others. He has written over 14 books, and set up the landmark religious verdict website Islam Q&A in 1996, running it until present. He is also the supervisor of eight other Islamic websites under the umbrella, the supervisor of the educational Zad group and delivers countless lectures, sermons and courses.

Saudi activists launched the Arabic Hashtag #arrest_of_Shaykh_Muhammad_Saleh_al-Munajjid, expressing their outrage at the campaign, and their exasperation at the detention of their most esteemed teachers.

Some have died in Saudi prisons

The death of the well-known Saudi thinker Abdullah Al-Hamid two years ago in Saudi prisons was not the first of its kind. It was preceded by similar cases with the Islamic preacher Saleh Al-Dhamiri, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Amari, among others.

It is unlikely that Al-Hamid’s death will be the last death of a detainee in Saudi prisons, especially with the continued inhuman conditions of detention of dozens of preachers, thinkers and academics in the kingdom who are at risk of medical negligence and death.

Human rights organizations have not succeeded in releasing them, or improving the conditions of their detention, amid accusations against Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman of targeting his opponents and getting rid of those who disagree with him since he took office in July 2017.

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Salman Al-Ouda

Preacher Salman Al-Ouda is one of the most prominent figures threatened with death behind bars, since his arrest in September 2017, following a tweet in which he asked God to “reunite hearts” after news about a phone call between Bin Salman and the Emir of the State of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani.

The criminal court in Riyadh has demanded 64-year-old Al-Ouda be executed, while he is being tried in secret sessions that are not attended by the media or rights groups.

In December 2019, his son, Abdullah Al-Ouda, revealed that his father had been tortured and prevented from obtaining medical treatment and denied sleep, adding: “They tie the Sheikh’s hands and feet, throw him in a solitary confinement cell blindfolded. They then throw him food in small bags while he is still tied, forcing him to open them with his mouth until his teeth got injured at some point.”

Safar Al-Hawali

Sixty-eight-year-old Shaykh Safar Al-Hawali, who has been in detention since July 2018, is in poor health due to a pelvic fracture and a previous stroke.

He was arrested after publishing a book in which he provided advice to the royal family and asserted the decline of American power and that the future is for Islam, and that wise politics requires standing with the rising power that has a future and not the declining force.

The abuse against him did not stop, but even his sons, Abdul Rahim, Abdullah and Abdul Rahman were arrested, and he was denied day release to receive condolences at the funeral of his mother-in- law in June 2019.

Awad Al-Qarni

Preacher Awad Al-Qarni, who has spent almost three years behind bars, is suffering from a severe deterioration in his health, especially after the Public Prosecution demanded his execution.

According to human rights statements, Al-Qarni was seen attending his court sessions in a wheelchair, which indicates the continuing deterioration of his health in prison, after he was intentionally given wrong doses of medicines, according to Prisoners of Conscience Twitter account.

The Saudi authorities accuse 63-year-old Al-Qarni of “sympathising with Qatar, supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, belonging to a banned group [the Association of Muslim Scholars], as well as abstaining from praying for the King, and seeking corruption on the land.”

Abdul Aziz Al-Tarifi

Preacher Abdul Aziz Al-Tarifi has been held in Al-Ha’ir Prison since April 2016, because of a tweet in which he criticized obedience to the will of America and condemned the visit of former US President Barack Obama to the kingdom.

Al-Tarifi said: “Some rulers think that giving up parts of their religious principles to satisfy infidels will stop them from exerting more pressures. However, the more they adhere to their desires the further they will ask for concessions. They [Arab leader]) must hold still and confront the pressures, as the enemy will not cease attempting to erase our identity.”

The 44-year-old’s health has deteriorated while in detention and he has been hospitalized repeatedly and denied family visits in order to keep his condition a secret from the outside world.

Musa Al-Qarni

The inhumane detention conditions under which Musa Al-Qarni is being held have caused great harm to the teacher of Fundamentals of Islamic Jurisprudence and former director of the Islamic University of Science and Technology. He suffered a stroke and is currently staying in a mental hospital.

Al-Qarni has been subjected to harsh treatment in prison including being forced to stand for long hours on one foot, being isolated in a narrow cell and electrocuted, according to human rights reports.

The well-known Saudi academic, 66, who has been referred to retirement by royal decree, is serving a 20-year prison sentence, in addition to being banned from travel for another 20 years after his release.

Authorities charged Al-Qarni, who has been in detention since 2011, of “disobeying the ruler and revolting against the norms by participating in establishing a secret organisation aimed at ravaging the current system and taking over power.”

Saud Al-Qahtani

Saud Al-Qahtani, the most prominent political detainee, has been detained since 1991. He has been tortured after being held on charges of distributing pamphlets that incite against the Saudi government.

Although Al-Qahtani’s prison sentence in Al-Tarfiya Prison, Buraydah Governorate, ended in 2009, he has not been released yet.

Al-Qahtani, 65, suffers from malnutrition and heart problems, which threaten his life.

Loujain Al-Hathloul

Repression and abuse in Saudi prisons is not limited to clerics, but also affects female activists. Loujain Al-Hathloul has endured torture and threats of rape while in detention.

Al-Hathloul was arrested on 15 May 2018, as part of a campaign targeting a number of Saudi activists. She was subjected to extreme forms of torture, to the point that she was threatened with rape and murder by Saud Al-Qahtani, Mohammed bin Salman’s adviser.

On 10 February 2021, al-Hathloul’s sister announced on Twitter that she had been released from prison. On 10 March 2021, Al-Hathloul’s sister said that a Riyadh court upheld the sentencing of Loujain. She is subject to many restrictions including a five-year travel ban.

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In 2021, she gave her iPhone to the Canadian Citizen Lab for forensic examination after it was hacked, leading to the discovery of spyware by the Israeli NSO group. Technical information uncovered by Bill Marczak’s team at the lab allowed Apple to warn thousands of its users, including U.S. State Department employees in Uganda. Researchers also discovered that spyware from QuaDream, another Israeli vendor, took advantage of the same “zero-click” vulnerability in iPhones.[62]

In December 2021, al-Hathloul announced she and the Electronic Frontier Foundation would be suing three former American intelligence officers, Marc Baier, Ryan Adams, and Daniel Gericke, accusing the officers of hacking her communications devices, leading to her kidnapping in the UAE and deportation to Saudi Arabia. The three officers had already admitted to providing the UAE with hacking services and equipment in a separate case

Other activists are also at risk of being killed in Saudi prisons, including academic Saud Al-Hashimi, Walid Al-Sinani, Aida Al-Ghamdi, mother of the UK-based Saudi oppositionists Abdullah Al-Ghamdi, and others.

Saudi authorities are trying to cover-up the death of detainees in its prisons; refusing to disclose the numbers of prisoners of conscience and detained human rights advocates, while declining requests made by human rights organisations to visit detainees and monitor the conditions of their detention, reported Amnesty International.

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