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Moderate Saudi scholar Odah’s trial postponed for months, says his son

Detained since September 2017 and facing the death penalty, popular preacher cast into another period of legal limbo by authorities in Riyadh
Sheikh Salman al-Odah is facing 37 charges, including ones 'terror-related', and the death penalty (Twitter)

The trial of Sheikh Salman al-Odah, a moderate Sunni scholar, has been postponed for months by Saudi authorities, his son has revealed on Sunday.

“Update in regard to the trial of my father today in which the Saudi attorney general is seeking death penalty against him because of his activism,” Abdullah al-Odah said on Twitter.

“The session has been postponed for several months from today,” he said, adding that his father was not brought into court and his next appearance is set for December.

Odah, an internationally renowned scholar known for his comparatively progressive views in the Islamic world on Sharia and homosexuality, was due to begin his trial on Sunday.

He was arrested in September 2017 shortly after tweeting a prayer wishing for a speedy reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, three months after Riyadh launched a blockade of its neighbour.

A year later, Odah appeared at a closed hearing of a criminal court set up by the Saudi interior ministry to try cases of terrorism.

The scholar was accused by the prosecutor of 37 charges of terrorism, including alleged affiliation to “terrorist organisations”, named as the Muslim Brotherhood and the European Council for Fatwa and Research, two prominent international Islamic organisations.

A second set of charges accused him of exposing “injustices towards prisoners” and of “expressing cynicism and sarcasm about the government’s achievements”.

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The third set of charges alleged an affiliation with the Qatari royal family and cited Odah’s public unwillingness to support the Saudi-led boycott on the peninsula emirate.

The prosecutor is seeking the death penalty against the Saudi scholar. On Friday, rights group Amnesty International said it was "gravely concerned" Odah could be executed.

Two days before he was murdered by a team of Saudi operatives in Istanbul, journalist Jamal Khashoggi told friends in London the raft of charges Odah faces is a revealing insight into the rule of law under the kingdom’s de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“He will crush dissent at all cost. These charges must be publicised,” Khashoggi said at the time. “Odah will be executed not because he is an extremist. It’s because he is a moderate. That is why they consider him a threat.”

In 2018 Odah, who is in his 60s, was hospitalised, which rights group Amnesty International said “highlights his shameful treatment by the Saudi authorities".

A source close to his family told Middle East Eye that Odah has been held in punishing solitary confinement, shackled and subjected to 24-hour bouts of interrogation.

In May, sources told MEE that the Saudi authorities were determined to execute Odah and two other moderate scholars, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Omari.

Saudi scholars

However, in a phone call with the crown prince, Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and aide, urged the Saudi ruler to think again before embarking on a wave of executions, sources told MEE.

One Saudi source with knowledge of the exchange told MEE: “Kushner said he was concerned that a new wave of executions would be harmful to the image of Saudi Arabia. It will have a bad effect on Congress.”

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.