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Saudi prosecutor demands death penalty for cleric Awad al-Qarni

For third time in one week, Saudi public prosecutor seeks death penalty for a prominent cleric
Awad al-Qarni in a photo from social media (Twitter)

Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor has called for cleric Awad al-Qarni to be sentenced to death, Saudi rights groups said Thursday.

Qarni, a Sunni preacher, academic and author, is the third scholar to face the same decision in one week.

He was arrested in September 2017 along with clerics Ali al-Omari and Salman Odah, who both also faced a death penalty recommendation by the public prosecutor earlier this week.

The three clerics were believed to be arrested mainly because they did not back Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s policy towards neighbouring Qatar, which is facing a blockade by Saudi Arabia and its allies in the Gulf because of alleged support for “terrorism”.

They are also independent scholars with a large following amongst Saudi and Arab youth.

These particular cases highlight how the government is pursuing its own extremist, intolerant agenda under the absurd guise of ‘moderate Islam'

- Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch

Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, said that the death sentence gave lie to the Crown Prince's self-proclaimed reform agenda.

“The Saudi prosecutor’s call for the death penalty against three well-known clerics is part and parcel of the government’s aggressive campaign to use its broadly-worded laws to silence its own citizens, in particular any who dare to push for reforms,” she said.

“These particular cases highlight how the government is pursuing its own extremist, intolerant agenda under the absurd guise of ‘moderate Islam'."

Prior to his arrest, Odah tweeted a call for reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

In June last year, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of "supporting terrorism". They also closed land, sea and air routes to it and expelled Qatari citizens.

Executions, most commonly beheadings, usually take place in Saudi Arabia after the decision is ratified by the king - in this case, King Salman.

The date of a final verdict for the three clerics has not yet been announced, due to the secretive nature of the trials.

Saudi Arabia remains “one of the most prolific executioners in the world”, beheading at least 100 people in 2017 alone, according to Amnesty International.

There are currently at least 58 people on death row in Saudi Arabia, most of them from the Shia minority, according to the latest tally by the European Saudi Organisation for Human Rights.

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