The son of prominent Saudi cleric Salman Al-Ouda, who was jailed in 2017 for opposing the blockade on Qatar, has appealed for the release of his father. Writing in the Guardian, Abdullah Al-Ouda called on Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to show his commitment to reconciliation with its smaller Gulf neighbour by freeing “prisoners of conscience”.
The blockade of Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt was imposed in June 2017. A breakthrough came earlier this month when Riyadh hosted a summit of the leaders of the states involved, including Qatar. This was followed by the opening of Saudi Arabia’s land border with its Gulf neighbour, paving the way for an easing of tensions with the other Arab states.
Abdullah Al-Ouda called on Bin Salman to release citizens of the Kingdom now that the dispute has come to an end.
Sheikh Al-Ouda was among the first of dozens of dissidents, writers and clerics who were detained in mid-September 2017 in a state crackdown on those it described as “acting for the benefit of foreign parties against the security of the Kingdom and its interests.”
According to Abdullah Al-Ouda, his father was arrested for refusing to tweet a message to his 13 million followers in support of the Saudi-led blockade on Qatar. He instead expressed a desire for reconciliation by tweeting: “May Allah harmonise between their hearts for the benefit of their peoples.” A few days later, Saudi state security officers arrested him.
After being held without charge for a year, the Saudi authorities filed 37 charges against Sheikh Al-Ouda. His trial began in September 2018 in the Specialised Criminal court, the country’s terrorism tribunal, in Riyadh. The charges in the ongoing trial are said to include ordinary activities such as, “objecting to the boycott of Qatar” and “visiting Qatar on multiple occasions, including in 2015”.
Calling for his father’s release, Abdullah Al-Ouda said, “As the blockade of Qatar is seemingly at an end, it is only fitting that the one who prayed for the parties’ reconciliation also finds that his imprisonment has come to an end.”