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Salman al-Odah to attend 'urgent' court session in Riyadh, says son

Rights groups have condemned imprisonment of scholar, who faces possible death sentence, as 'politically motivated'
Scholar Salman al-Odah is facing 37 charges punishable by the death penalty (Twitter)

The son of Saudi scholar Salman al-Odah, who is facing a possible death sentence, said late on Wednesday that his father had been transferred to a court in Riyadh for an urgent court session brought forward from a November hearing.

Odah, 61, is an internationally renowned Sunni Muslim scholar and cleric known for his progressive views.

He was arrested in September 2017 shortly after tweeting a prayer for reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and its former regional ally, Qatar. 

“Today, my family was surprised to receive a call from the prison administration telling them they have urgently transferred my father Salman al-Odah to Riyadh for a hearing brought forward from its original date that was scheduled for more than one month from now. I pray that he and others will soon be released,” the scholar’s son Abdullah al-Odah said in a tweet.

Abdullah has called for international pressure to prevent his father’s execution, which he said would amount to "state-sanctioned murder".

Odah was scheduled to go before a Saudi court at the end of July, but his hearing has been postponed until November.

The scholar has been accused by the Saudi 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”.

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.

His family has repeatedly denied the accusations against him.

Amnesty International condemned Odah's trial as "politically motivated".

"Since his arrest almost two years ago, [Odah] has gone through a terrible ordeal including prolonged pre-trial detention, months of solitary confinement, incommunicado detention, and other ill-treatment - all flagrant violations to his right to a fair trial," Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Research Director said in July.

“The Saudi authorities continue to claim that they are fighting ‘terrorism’ when this trial, as well as those of other activists, including the 37 men who were executed last April, are clearly politically motivated and meant to silence independent voices in the country." 

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.

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.”