Saudi Arabia Seeks Death Penalty Against Prominent Cleric

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabian prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against a prominent cleric arrested last year under an ongoing crackdown on dissent by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the cleric’s son said.

Salman Al-Odah was detained in September 2017. Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said at the time that the roundup of a diverse group of clerics, businessmen and intellectuals had targeted people who were “pushing an extremist agenda” with the help of foreign funding.

“The Saudi attorney general accused my father @salman_alodah of 37 charges” and asked for his execution, his son Abdullah said in a tweet. Some of the charges were related to comments he posted on Twitter, he said. The cleric has 14 million Twitter followers.

As a younger man, Al-Odah, now in his 60s, was a leader of Saudi Arabia’s Islamic awakening movement, which called for political reforms grounded in Islam. Once admired by Osama bin Laden, he was jailed in the 1990s for opposing the government, but later moderated his views to denounce extremism.

Earlier this month, his son accused authorities of neglecting his father’s deteriorating health and of conducting the trial in secret, without the presence of a lawyer or independent organizations.

The government’s Center for International Communication didn’t respond to a request for comment on the reported execution request. Amnesty International said last month that Saudi prosecutors are seeking to behead six people, including Israa al-Ghomgam, a woman who participated in anti-government protests in the eastern part of the country.

In another sign there will be no letup in its crackdown on dissent, Saudi Arabia warned it will punish those who produce or share satirical online content that disturbs “public order, religious values and public morals.” An “informational crime” on social media could result in a five-year prison term and a fine of 3 million riyals ($800,000), the Public Prosecution tweeted on Monday.

Prince Mohammed’s clampdown has undercut his efforts to fashion himself as a modernizer trying to open Saudi Arabia’s economy and loosen some social restrictions.

In the past year, the government has arrested dozens of clerics, academics, writers, businessmen and journalists from across the political spectrum. In May, some of the country’s most prominent women’s rights activists were arrested as well, accused of cooperating with unspecified foreign entities. Many Saudis say space for respectful criticism has shrunk.

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