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Saudi Arabia: Online campaign for the release of prominent scholar Safar al-Hawali

Seventy-year-old has been imprisoned for over 1,000 days and reportedly suffers from various health conditions
The Saudi scholar was arrested in 2018 and concerns have been raised about his deteriorating health (Screengrab/Twitter)

Activists have launched an online campaign calling for the release of a prominent Saudi preacher who has been behind bars in the kingdom since July 2018.

Safar al-Hawali, 70, is reportedly yet to be sentenced by any court, despite being imprisoned for over 1,000 days, and the exact charges against him are not known. He is believed to be suffering from ill health, and concerns have been raised over the conditions he is being held in.

According to reports, he was arrested by authorities after a book attributed to him, titled Muslims and Western Civilisation, circulated on social media. The book contained scathing criticism of the Saudi monarchy and policies. 

Three of Hawali’s sons, Abd al-Rahim, Abdullah and Abdul-Rahman, remain in detention alongside him. A fourth, Ibrahim, was released in February.

The hashtags "Safar al-Hawali" and "freedom for Safar al-Hawali" have been used by hundreds of people in recent days to highlight his health condition and confinement, with many people also tweeting prayers for his freedom. 

Translation: 1,000 days behind bars #safir_al-hawali. May God free him and those like him #saudiarabia

Translation: The sheikh Safar al-Hawali - a scholar, elderly, bedridden, his jailers have no mercy on him. They were cruel to him, his family and relatives. May God free him and his children and be harder on his jailers who have broken his back

Last year, concerns were raised about Hawali’s health following the death of Abdullah al-Hamid, a prominent Saudi human rights defender, as a result of medical negligence in prison. 

Rights groups have previously warned about the condition of Hawali’s health, stating that he has suffered from kidney failure and is not receiving the proper medical support he needs. 

Translation: Several kinds of injustices against Safar al-Hawali and his children and relatives who are also imprisoned. They imprisoned his friend Dr Ahmed al-Ammari until he died in prison. Dr Ali al-Hajjaj, may God have mercy on him, was released due to his poor health after a long investigation. They cut his nephew’s scholarship in Australia and put him in a narrow position 

Last year, Abdallah al-Odah, the son of a jailed Saudi scholar, Salman al-Odah, said on Twitter that his father was being "killed slowly in detention". 

Salman al-Odah, a renowned Muslim scholar and cleric known for his progressive views on Saudi Arabia, was among several prominent scholars and preachers arrested in September 2017. 

The 63-year-old was detained shortly after posting a tweet welcoming reports of a possible reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. His son says that while in prison, his father has lost almost half of his ability to hear and see. 

Human Rights Watch has previously highlighted the Saudi authorities’ crackdown on peaceful activists, and called on the release of those behind bars for expressing their views. 

The New York-based rights group said authorities have continued to repress dissidents, human rights activists and independent clerics, often giving them long sentences based on fabricated charges or vague allegations.