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Saudi Arabia: Prominent cleric dies in detention, say campaigners

Rights group blames Saudi authorities for the death of Musa al-Qarni, a former university professor and rights advocate
Musa al-Qarni was serving a 15-year prison sentence in Saudi Arabia (Twitter)

A leading Saudi cleric died in detention on Tuesday, campaigners have said, highlighting the kingdom's dire human rights record.

Multiple human rights groups, including the Saudi rights group ALQST, reported that Musa al-Qarni, a former university professor, died after his health deteriorated while serving a 15-year prison sentence.

"Qarni was subjected to brutal torture, and the Saudi authorities deliberately harmed him by giving him unsuitable medication," the rights group said on Twitter.

"ALQST questions the causes of death & calls for an international investigation."

Qarni, 66, was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2011 during a trial against the "Jeddah reformers". 

Saudi authorities had called for several of the men, who demanded human rights and political reform in the kingdom, to be executed.

Saud al-Hashimi, who was accused of being the leader of the group, was later sentenced to 30 years in prison, with a further 30-year travel ban and was handed a fine of 2 million riyals ($534,000), according to ALQST.

Saudi Arabia has been labelled one of the world's worst rights abusers by the Human Rights Measurement Initiative, as it continues to detain rights advocates, repress peaceful activism and carry out the death penalty.

It is one of the few remaining countries in the world to carry out capital punishment by beheading, including for homosexuality and drug crimes.

Since becoming crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman - also known as MBS - has attempted to change the international image of the ultra-conservative kingdom. But he has also intensified a crackdown on human rights activists and political dissidents.

Also among those caught up in the crackdown are reformist Sunni scholars such as Salman al-OdahAli al-Omari and Awad al-Qarni, as well as Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz, MBS's uncle.

Sports and entertainment events have formed part of the kingdom's Vision 2030 strategy to diversify the economy and improve its international reputation, with the kingdom playing host to several international sporting events, including wrestlingfootball and world heavyweight boxing.

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to MEE's request for comment by the time of publication.