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Family says Saudi postpones cleric Awda’s ‘secret’ hearing

[FILES] Saudi prosecutor postponed a hearing in the case against Sheikh Salman al-Awda Sunday

A Saudi prosecutor postponed a hearing in the case against Sheikh Salman al-Awda Sunday, the prominent cleric’s son said, more than a year after his arrest.

“Today for the third time, the secret trial hearing for the case of my father … has been postponed,” tweeted Abdullah al-Awda.

The cleric’s family and Saudi media have said prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. The charge sheet has not been made public.

Rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said the trial is a political reprisal against Awda, a leading figure in a 1990s Islamist movement associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Far from an isolated case, the trial of Salman al-Awda is part of a policy of judicial persecution of intellectuals exercising their right to freedom of expression and opinion by Saudi authorities,” Awda’s attorneys in Paris said Saturday.

The three attorneys said they had jointly referred the matter to various United Nations special rapporteurs to “publicly call on Saudi authorities to release Salman al-Awda immediately”.

According to Saudi media close to the government, Awda faces 37 charges. No details have been published.

The cleric was among more than 20 people arrested in September 2017 in a widening crackdown on dissent in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Amnesty has said Awda’s family has been denied any contact with him.

According to the rights group, Awda was arrested a few hours after posting a tweet welcoming reports of a possible reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Qatar.

Saudi Arabia and several allies cut off all diplomatic and economic ties with Doha in June 2017, accusing it of links to Islamic extremists, a charge Qatar has categorically denied.

The cleric’s family have said Saudi authorities had demanded that Awda and other prominent figures publicly back the kingdom in the dispute, but he refused.

Saudi activists allege Awda’s brother Khaled has also been detained for disclosing the cleric’s arrest.

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