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Twitter campaign shines light on Saudi prisoners of conscience

Salman Al-Ouda, prominent Saudi Islamist preacher who was arrested by Saudi forces [marwan Almuraisy/Flickr]
Salman Al-Ouda, prominent Saudi preacher who was arrested by Saudi forces, 13 March 2009 [marwan Almuraisy/Flickr]

Prominent Saudi cleric Sheikh Salman Al-Ouda, who was arrested on 7 September 2017, has been hospitalised in the Saudi city of Jeddah after more than four months in solitary confinement.

"Despite the deliberate blackout and poor communication it was confirmed that my father has been seen in hospital," Al-Ouda's son, who is currently residing in the United States, said in a tweet on Wednesday.

Abdullah has not been given information about his father or his health since he was taken to hospital. "Until now, we still haven't heard anything about my father's health. We do not know anything given all this suspicious secrecy. We have no contact with him and no messages of reassurance."

Al-Ouda was among more than 20 people detained in the Kingdom in early September 2017 as part of a campaign of arrests on "intelligence activities… for the benefit of foreign parties against the security of the kingdom and its interests," the US based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said earlier this month. He has been held without charge ever since and has reportedly been prevented from communicating with the outside world, being allowed only one telephone call in October.

"When my father was arrested, he was fully healthy despite his age. In this interview, before he went to prison, he highlighted how healthy he is physically. If anything were to happen to him now, God forbid, those imprisoning him will be held fully responsible," Al-Ouda's son said in another tweet.

Twitter campaign

According to his family, Al-Ouda and other prominent figures including Islamic scholars, preachers, writers, researchers and poets were arrested after refusing to tweet in support of the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar. Instead, Al-Ouda posted a tweet endorsing warmer relations with Qatar.

Saudi and other Arab twitter users joined Abdullah Al-Ouda in drawing attention to the plight of the prisoners of conscience in the kingdom and calling for their freedom using the hashtag #أنقذوا_معتقلي_الرأي [#Save_Prisoners_Of_Conscience].

Writer and journalist Turki Al-Shalhoub wrote:
– Salman Al-Ouda made a prayer to God and got arrested.
– Jamil Farsi warned against selling Aramco and was arrested.
– Tarrad Al-Amari warned against the corrupt and was arrested.
– Saleh Al-Shehhi pointed out corruption in the court and was arrested.
– Essam Al-Zamil did his utmost to serve the country and was arrested.
– As for the rest of the detainees, everyone testifies to their love and loyalty to the country.

"What is painful about the the September detentions is that they are unjustified, with no charges and no conspiracies, and have damaged the positive image of His Highness the Crown Prince as he implements a set of reforms," wrote Jamal Khashoggi.

"You don't need to have a close relative in prison to support the oppressed, you just need to have a sincere heart and a living conscience to speak the truth and defend the oppressed, even if you disagree with their ideas."

"Curbing freedom of expression is a choice made by weak authorities. There is no weaker than the Saudi authorities, arresting those who oppose them and those who disagree with them or call for reform. They arrested everyone who said 'no' or 'why?' They just want you to listen and obey."

The International Union of Muslim clerics (IUMS) also called on Wednesday for the release of all Muslim clerics arrested in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In a statement, the Union said it is continuing to follow up on the cases of the preachers and clerics held in Saudi and Emirati prisons for merely expressing their opinions.

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