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Saudi preacher Yousef al-Ahmad sentenced to four years in prison

Charges against the Islamic scholar and academic said to include attending a book fair and visiting detainees in jail
Ahmad was detained by Saudi authorities in September 2017 as a part of a widespread crackdown on scholars and intellectuals (Screengrab/Twitter)

Saudi preacher Yousef al-Ahmad has been sentenced to four years in prison, human rights organisations have confirmed. 

Ahmad, an Islamic scholar and academic, has been detained since September 2017, when Saudi authorities arrested a number of preachers and intellectuals, including popular cleric Salman al-Odah.

Odah's son confirmed Ahmad's sentencing to Middle East Eye on Thursday. 

"The news on him is true. He has been sentenced to four years imprisonment," Abdullah al-Odah, who is research director at DAWN, said. 

We Record, a rights organisation that monitors abuses in the MENA region, reported that Ahmad had been given a four-year sentence, followed by a four-year travel ban. 

The Prisoners of Conscience Twitter account said the charges against Ahmad included attending a book fair and visiting detainees in prison.

The organisation, which records the fate of Saudi prisoners, posted what it said was a screenshot of the judgement, which showed that the sentence would run from the beginning of his detainment, and he would therefore be due for release in September next year. 

Ahmad was previously arrested in 2011 after criticising the detention of security suspects without charge or trial, and sentenced to five years in jail for "incitement against the ruler" and "sewing sedition".

He was later granted a royal pardon by then King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in November 2012. 

Ahmad's views in the past have proved controversial; the cleric has repeatedly rejected "westernisation" by the Saudi government, including opposing policies which sought to open up work and education for women. 

Saudis 'slowly killing my father'

On Wednesday, Abdullah al-Odah wrote a column for the New York Times in which he said that Saudi authorities were "slowly killing" his father. 

"During the first three to five months of his detention, in Dhahban prison in Jeddah, guards shackled his feet with chains and blindfolded him while moving him between interrogation rooms and his cell," Odah said. 

"On one occasion, the guards threw a plastic bag of food at him without removing his handcuffs. He was forced to open the bag and remove the food with his mouth, causing considerable damage to his teeth."

Salman al-Odah, an internationally renowned Sunni scholar and cleric known for his progressive views, was first arrested in September 2017, shortly after tweeting a prayer for reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and its former regional ally Qatar, three months after Riyadh launched a blockade against Doha. 

His son tweeted a list of individuals whom he held responsible for the deterioration of the scholar's health, including the kingdom's attorney general, public prosecutor and several judges. 

Last week, jailed Saudi rights activist Mohammed Fahad al-Qahtani launched a hunger strike in protest against the conditions in the notorious al-Hair prison near Riyadh. 

Qahtani's friend and colleague Abdullah al-Hamid, a well-known professor and poet who had been held at al-Hair since 2013, died in April in what rights groups said was a result of "deliberate medical neglect".