Saudi Arabia is seeking the death penalty for renowned Muslim scholar Salman Odah, 61, according to local media, activists and Odah's son.
Odah was detained without charges on Sept. 10, 2017, along with 20 other individuals. He has been described as a “reformist” by U.N. experts. His detention came after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman cracked down on dissenting voices and imposed a land, air and sea blockade on Qatar.
Odah was detained after tweeting a prayer for reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. "May God harmonize between their hearts for the good of their people," he said in the post before his detention.
The state prosecutor brought 37 charges against Odah including affiliation with a terrorist organization. Odah is affiliated with the International Union of Muslim Scholars, which has been labeled as a terrorist organization by the country.
Other charges brought against him include attempts to destabilize the nation, revive sedition, incitement against the ruler, spreading discontent and provoking unrest. He is also accused of trying to advance the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood, banned in other Gulf countries and Egypt, against Saudi Arabia and its rulers. Another charge against him is calling for a change in the Saudi government, toppling Arab governments and establishing the ‘Caliphate.’
Odah’s son, Abdullah, wrote on Twitter, “Today, at a court hearing for my father Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, the prosecution requested the death penalty against him, and submitted 37 charges, one of which was establishing the al-Nusra organization in Kuwait to defend the Prophet (PBUH), and being a member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research and the International Union of Muslim scholars, with other charges related to his tweets on Twitter.”
In 2011, Odah called for elections and the separation of powers which are considered dangerous provocations in Saudi Arabia.
Thousands of Saudis took to social media to protest against the news of Odah’s trial. They took part in a viral hashtag “Salman Odah is not a terrorist” while demanding his release.
Cracking down on dissent has surged in the absolute monarchy where public protests and political parties are banned. Dozens of intellectuals, religious leaders and women’s rights activists have been jailed in the past year. Among those arrested were prominent Islamic preachers Awad Qarni, Farhan Malki, Mostafa Hassan, and Safar Hawali. Hawali was detained because of his 3,000-page book criticising the ruling family over their ties with Israel and calling it a betrayal.
Israa al-Ghomgham, from the Eastern Province, was sentenced to the death penalty along with four other human rights activists last month. She is possibly the first female human rights defender facing said punishment.
According to a tally by the European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, there are currently at least 58 people on death row in Saudi Arabia. The number of persons facing the death penalty has doubled in the country since Mohammed bin Salman was appointed crown prince in 2017, according to the anti-death penalty group Reprieve.