Details about Saudi Arabia's arrest of the prominent Islamic scholar Safar Al-Hawali and three of his sons have been revealed by activists on social networking sites. Al-Hawali was detained on Thursday, just a few days after the publication of his book, Muslims and Western Culture, in which he attacks the policies of the current Saudi government, especially its rapprochement with the United States, the UAE and the Egyptian regime of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
The Twitter account operated by "Prisoners of Conscience" explained that the officers who arrested Al-Hawali at dawn on Thursday arrived at his home in the village of Hawala with an ambulance. This proves, they insisted, that the authorities were well aware of his critical health condition — he suffered a brain haemorrhage in 2005 and still suffers from its effects — but still took him to prison.
At the same time, the Saudis also arrested Al-Hawali's brother, Shaikh Saadallah, in what was described as a "barbaric" manner, which frightened his family. He was taken by masked officers to an unknown destination; nothing has been heard about him since.
Quoting unspecified sources, the account on Twitter claimed that the authorities separated Shaikh Safar Al-Hawali from his sons in prison. He was transferred to Riyadh, while his sons were taken to Jeddah.
In his book, the 68-year-old scholar discussed the internal differences between the members of the ruling Al-Saud family, which are in the public domain and, he argued, pose a threat to the Kingdom. He also criticised the Saudi participation in the siege of Qatar.
Publication of the book sparked widespread controversy on social networks. While his son attributed the book to his father, others who know Al-Hawali well are sceptical about the claim, not least because of the words attributed to him.
Safar Al-Hawali came to prominence as a member of the Sahwah movement, which is close to the Muslim Brotherhood. During the 1991 Gulf War he surprised everyone with his courage and unconventional political rhetoric. He publically opposed the intervention of US forces and their presence on Saudi soil. Having disagreed with the government of the then monarch, King Fahd, and the religious institutions led by Shaikh Abd Al-Aziz Bin Baz, he was imprisoned for many years.
For almost a year, the Saudi authorities have arrested clerics, academics and others who were, they allege, working "for the benefit of external parties against the security and interests of the kingdom." Critics suggest that the only "crime" of those arrested is that they did not back the Saudi government in its campaign against the State of Qatar.