Imprisoned preacher Salman Al-Awda is not forgotten… Freedom for him and for all prisoners of conscience

This month marks the anniversary of Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) elevation to the position of Crown Prince, following which he promised to implement radical reforms within the Kingdom. The Saudi regime has since made the decision to boycott Qatar diplomatically and impose a broad blockade on it, along with Bahrain, Egypt, and the UAE, before reaching a reconciliation agreement three years ago.

However, it turned out that MBS’s post-accession reform pledges were hollow. They neglected to address the larger crises, concentrating only on a small portion of society’s issues. Instead, his pledges were backed by an intense campaign of intimidation directed towards academics, activists, preachers, and thinkers. This campaign has continued to this day, taking Saudi Arabia to the top of the list of nations that restrict freedom.

In spite of the reconciliation with Qatar, dozens of preachers and activists who demanded reconciliation during the initial stages of the crisis remain in detention. Even though the primary justification for their detention was meant to have vanished with the signing of the reconciliation agreement in 2021, the authorities have refused to release them.

The most well-known of these prisoners is reformist preacher and scholar Salman Al-Awda, who has been held for almost seven years as a result of his tweets advocating for reconciliation with Qatar and an end to the conflict.

Al-Awda was arrested on September 8, 2017, for posting the following tweet: “May God harmonize between their hearts for the good of their people.” Al-Awda suffered years of abuse, torture, pressure, and treatment denial as a result of this tweet.

Salman Al-Awda is not only a victim of the Saudi regime’s double standards—it has reached a reconciliation agreement with Qatar but continues to hold him in custody—but he is also a victim of state persecution, as the brutality of the country’s repression apparatus has reached a point where the Saudi prosecution has demanded to impose the death penalty against him at the Specialized Criminal Court in Riyadh. Despite being a moderate preacher known for his moderation, rejection of violence, and unwavering desire for the stability of the nation and the pursuit of a better life for citizens, Salman Al-Awda and several other prisoners of conscience were charged of “disobeying the rulers.”

Although the Islamic preacher only called for changes in the Saudi government, he is accused of inciting strife, joining international unions and associations.

The authorities continue to deny the participation of independent parties in legal proceedings and have kept Al-Awda in solitary confinement.

The Saudi regime purposefully does not set a time limit for Al-Awda’s isolation in order to put more psychological pressure on him, even though solitary confinement is a punishment that must be applied for a specific period of time and for specific reasons.

Not content with these harsh and arbitrary actions taken against Dr. Salman Al-Awda, the Saudi authorities arrested his younger brother Khaled Al-Awda on the grounds that he had tweeted in support of his brother and demanded his release. This action not only amounts to a form of collective punishment, but it also flagrantly violates fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and human rights.

The Saudi actions against Khaled and Salman Al-Awda, as well as several other activists and human rights advocates, have demonstrated that regular, capricious, random detention methods can be regarded as pressure measures employed when accountability or transparency are lacking.

We, for our part, declare our solidarity with Khaled and Salman Al-Awda and all activists fighting for human rights in Saudi Arabia and around the world, and we call on the various governments and the international community to step in and take the necessary actions to help create an appropriate environment for national dialogue, freedom, and democracy in Saudi Arabia.

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