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Saudi cleric Abdelaziz al-Fawzan arrested over 'war on religion' tweets

Fawzan had criticised imprisonment of other imams by Saudi authorities as part of Mohammed bin Salman's crackdown on dissent
Abdelaziz Fawzan has more than two million followers on Twitter (Twitter)

Saudi Arabian authorities are reported to have arrested influential cleric Abdelaziz al-Fawzan after he spoke out against the arrests of other religious leaders in the country.

Fawzan’s arrest was highlighted by Prisoners of Conscience, a Twitter account run by activists campaigning against the wave of arrests targeting opponents of the Saudi government.

Prisoners of Conscience said it had received confirmation that Fawzan, a professor of comparative religious law at the Saudi Higher Institute of Justice, had been arrested over a tweet in which he had “expressed his opinion against the suppression of sheikhs and preachers”.

Translation: It was confirmed to us that that the Saudi authorities arrested Dr. Abdelaziz Fawzan, professor of comparative religious law at the Higher Institute of Justice, against the background of the tweet in which he expressed his opinion against the suppression of sheikhs and preachers. He warned people against being sycophants.

Fawzan has been banned from leaving Saudi territory and barred from using social media networks, Al Jazeera Arabic reported.

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The cleric, who has more than two million followers on Twitter, criticised the arrests of other imams and religious leaders in tweets posted on 15 and 16 July, in which he accused Saudi authorities of waging a “war on religion and values”.

"With this heinous war on religion and values, you should not back the criminals, and your love for money and status should not lead you to try to please them or portray their wrongful actions positively, otherwise you would lose this life and the afterlife," one of the tweets said.

Several prominent clerics were arrested as part of a wider purge instigated by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in September, which also targeted Saudi princes and high-profile business tycoons.

Those detained include Salman al-Odah and Awad al-Qarni, two of the country’s most prominent scholars, who were arrested in September in what was seen as a crackdown on some of the country’s most influential religious figures.

Odah, who was arrested after offering to mediate in the dispute between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, was reportedly taken to a hospital in January after spending five months in solitary confinement.

Earlier this month, Sheikh Safar al-Hawali, a veteran Salafi scholar and leading figure in Saudi Arabia's Islamic Sahwa (Awakening) reformist movement, was also arrested.

Bin Salman is currently overseeing a programme of economic and social reforms. But he has been criticised by human rights groups for cracking down on opposition activists, with Human Rights Watch reporting in April that “state repression against human rights defenders and any form of dissent has only increased under the crown prince”.

Authorities last month arrested a number of prominent women's rights campaigners, just days before the kingdom ended a decades-long ban on women driving.

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