According to Middle East Eye three prominent Sunni scholars, Salman al-Odah, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Omari, will be condemned to death and executed right after Ramadan in Saudi Arabia. The information have been reported to the media outlet by two government sources and one of the men’s relatives.
No death sentence has been held yet, however the three scholars are all facing multiple charges on “terrorism”.
Salman al-Odah, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Omari are all well known Saudi scholars, that have a large number of followers on social media. The most prominent of the three is Sheikh Salman al-Odah, he is an international renowned scholar, considered a “reformist” by UN specialists and mainly known for his progressive views on Sharia and homosexuality.
Al-Odah was arrested in September 2017 after having tweeted a prayer for reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In that occasion Saudi authorities stated they were cracking down those acting “for the benefit of foreign parties against the security of the kingdom and its interests”. After his arrest, al-Odah appeared in a hearing of the Special Criminal Court and was accused of 37 charges of terrorism. Those charges alleged affiliations to terrorist organisations, accuses of exposing “injustices towards prisoners” and of “expressing cynicism and sarcasm about the government’s achievements”, and finally alleged affiliations with the Qatari family.
Moreover, Awad al-Qarni is a Sunni preacher, academic and author. While Ali al-Omari is a popular broadcaster. They both were arrested in September 2017.
The three men are currently waiting for a trial at the Criminal Special Court in Riyadh after the hearing set for the 1 May has been postponed. According to the two Saudi government sources, authorities planned to execute them after the holy month of Ramadan. One of them said “They will not wait to execute these men once the death sentence has been passed”.
Furthermore, the second source said that the 37 executions carried out in April 2019 functioned just as a “trial balloon” to see how strong was the international reaction. Namely, the source affirmed: “When they found out there was very little international reaction, particularly at the level of governments and heads of state, they decided to proceed with their plan to execute figures who were prominent”.
Two days before his killing, the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi said that the charges inflicted to al-Odah reflected the rule of law in Saudi Arabia, imposed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In addition, he said that authorities were going to execute al-Odah for being a moderate, namely he was considered a threat for the kingdom.
On the other hand, the founder of the Saudi human rights organisation ALQST, Yahya Assiri, stated in a tweet in Arab that the report is not true. He wrote “Nothing is beyond the authorities who are oppressive, brutal and ignorant, but also no one has been convicted or executed … This news is harmful to the victim and the human rights situation and our work”.
The European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights (ECDHR) expresses concerns for the cases of Salman al-Odah, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Omari. Furthermore, it calls upon the European Institution to take action, especially regarding the death penalty abolition in Saudi Arabia.