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Prominent Saudi cleric likely died of torture in prison: Rights activist

While some outlets said Ahmed al-Emari died due to medical negligence, one rights group said the imam may have been subjected to torture
Scholar Ahmed al-Emari died in Jeddah on Sunday, according to his son (Twitter).

Prominent Saudi Islamic scholar Sheikh Ahmed al-Emari reportedly died on Sunday as a result of poor prison conditions and possible torture, a human rights activist told Middle East Eye on Monday.

According to Abdullah Ahmed al-Emari, the son of the deceased cleric, Emari passed away on Sunday, and his funeral was to be held on Monday afternoon at the holy mosque in Mecca.

Emari, 69, was the former dean of the School of Quran at the University of Medina.

According to Yahya Assiri, the director of the London-based ALQST rights group, Emari was arrested from his home in Saudi Arabia in July in a crackdown that also included the arrest of scholar Safar al-Hawaly, one of Emari’s associates.

A number of social media accounts run by the Saudi rights groups have described Emari's death as a case of medical negligence. However, Assiri insisted that Emari’s health had been stable, citing a recent family visit in December.

The cleric, held in solitary confinement since his arrest, was suddenly transferred from Dhahban prison to the King Abdullah Medical Complex in Jeddah on 2 January after a deadly brain haemorrhage, Assiri said, citing multiple informed Saudi sources.

“I believe it is a case of murder in custody rather than medical negligence,” said Assiri, explaining that authorities contacted his family on 2 January to inform them that he was released from jail after all the charges against him were dropped.

He was, however, transferred to hospital in a serious condition and died few days later.

“They released him because they knew he was about to die,” Assiri told MEE.

Middle East Eye could not independently verify reports of Emari’s alleged torture.  

Saudi Arabia has intensified its crackdown against independent clerics since Mohammed bin Salman became the kingdom's crown prince and heir to the throne in June 2017.

The crackdown has targeted reformist Sunni scholars such as Salman OdahAli al-Omari, and Awad al-Qarni, who were all sentenced to death a year later in trials marred by serious violations, according to international rights groups.

Waves of arrests have also targeted feminist and human rights activists and powerful business figures in what has been seen as a campaign to purge Saudi Arabia of dissent. 

On 2 January, a cross-party group of British politicians and international lawyers requested to visit detained female human rights activists in Saudi Arabia to investigate claims that they were being tortured.

Last November, Amnesty International revealed that several detained human rights activists were subjected to torture, sexual harassment and other inhumane treatment in the Dhahban prison, where Emari was held before his death.

Citing three separate testimonies, the human rights group said the activists, some of whom are women, were tortured by electrocution and flogging, which left "some unable to walk or stand properly".