Sheikh Tawfiq: My Father

A man who stands by his principles

Sheikh Tawfiq al-Amr is a prominent Shi’a Muslim cleric who is serving an eight-year prison sentence in Saudi Arabia. He was jailed in 2011 for criticising discrimination against the Shi’a community and calling for reforms. Today, on the third anniversary of his sentencing, his son Mohammed, 31, tells their story.

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When Sheikh Tawfiq, my father, was arrested the last time, I was in Arizona working on my Bachelor degree and studying for an exam. I received a very disturbing call from my family telling me that they couldn’t reach my father and that his car had been found unattended on his usual route home from his mosque in al-Ahsa in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province. We knew he had been kidnapped by the secret police - this was not the first time they had done this. The question was, where was he?

For a week we didn’t know if my father was dead or alive. Then someone contacted the family to tell us they had seen him in a prison in Dammam.

My father is an advocate of civil rights, a man of principles who believes in freedom and the right of individuals to live a dignified life. His troubles with the Saudi Arabian authorities started because of his courage in addressing issues like racial and religious discrimination and unfair distribution of wealth in Saudi Arabia.

A loving father who made us feel safe

I’m his eldest son; I have two brothers and four sisters. We were raised by two loving parents: my father and mother are equal partners who shared responsibility for us. We lived in a small home, but it was fun growing up having a lot of brothers and sisters. As a family, we miss his warm smile, which would make us feel safe and happy. He is loving and understanding; always there when we needed help or guidance, patient when we made a mistake or acted childishly. I still remember him telling us stories, like the story of Prophet Moses, when we were kids. He is such a good story-teller.

At first, the authorities tried to pressure my father into signing a pledge renouncing his right to speak in public and a lot of other basic rights. He refused to do so. The authorities then tried to use the family to pressure him to sign. Upon refusing again, they sentenced him to eight years in prison and a 10-year travel ban. As a family we support his decisions. We understand his basic right to stand tall by his principles and beliefs.

My father has spent years being moved around different jails, and is now in a prison in Riyadh. It is a three-and-a-half-hour drive, or four and a half hours by train, from our family home in al-Ahsa, so it’s a difficult trip for the family to visit him, on top of all the security measures they have to go through. Normally it is a very short visit, with a thick glass screen separating them.

Like other political prisoners in Saudi Arabia, my father is being treated inhumanely. Both of my grandparents passed away while he has been in prison. He was prevented from attending either of their funerals, and also denied temporary release to attend the wedding of one of my sisters.

One of the major issues my father is facing in prison is the lack of medical attention. He has had kidney stones for over four years, which cause him a lot of pain and health complications. Also, he was attacked by a crimnal inside the prsion about two and a half years ago, which left him with a broken nose and lower jaw that have not been treated. As a result, he is left with a continuous headache and has lost sensation in four of his teeth. 

Dear reader, I am writing this to ask for your support to help us expose the issues of political prisoners and human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. I am hoping for the release not only of my father but of all political prisoners in Saudi Arabia, regardless of gender, creed or religion.

There are thousands like me in Saudi Arabia. They wish for their relatives to be free. Their families miss them.

There are thousands like me in Saudi Arabia. They wish for their relatives to be free. Their families miss them.
Mohammed Al-Amr, son of Sheikh Tawfiq, Saudi prisoner of conscience

Dear Saudi Arabia, it is time to free my father and all those who peacefully asked for political reform. It is time you free them unconditionally. They only asked for rights that Islam as a religion calls for, such as freedom and equality.

Every time I have a chance to talk to my father I am hugely encouraged. He is always optimistic about the future, the tone of his voice always full of positive energy: the future is going to be better for us and the next generations, he says. I share his optimism and hope you do too.