Shi’a cleric held in Saudi Arabia for ‘inciting public opinion’

The Saudi Arabian authorities must release or charge with an internationally recognizably offence a Shi’a cleric reportedly held for “inciting public opinion,” Amnesty International said today.Sheikh Tawfiq Jaber Ibrahim al-‘Amr was arrested on 3 August, reportedly over statements he had made in sermons during Friday prayers although no formal charges are known to have been made.The cleric was previously arrested in February following a sermon he gave calling for reforms in Saudi Arabia including a constitutional monarchy, fair distribution of jobs, and an end to discrimination against religious minorities.”It would appear that this cleric has been arrested in connection to his continuing calls for reform,” said Philip Luther, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.”If so, he would be a prisoner of conscience detained solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression and should be released immediately and unconditionally.”Sheikh Tawfiq Jaber Ibrahim al-‘Amr was arrested on 3 August while on his way home from a mosque in the city of al-Hafouf, al-Ahsa governorate.He is said to have received a letter from the authorities days before he was arrested telling him to report to them.The authorities did not tell his family where he was until five days later when they were allowed to visit him at a police station in the west of the city of Dammam.The cleric was previously arrested and held incommunicado for a week earlier this year after a sermon he gave calling for reform in Saudi Arabia. He was released without charge.Two years ago, Sheikh Tawfiq Jaber Ibrahim al-‘Amr was arrested and detained for 10 days apparently in connection with his practice of the Shi’a faith.He was also arrested three years ago and detained for three days, apparently in connection with an art exhibition he organized for the religious festival of Ashura.Critics of the Saudi Arabian government face gross human rights violations. They are often held incommunicado without charge, sometimes in solitary confinement, prevented from consulting lawyers and denied access to the courts to challenge the lawfulness of their detention.Torture or other ill-treatment is frequently used to extract confessions from detainees, to punish them for refusing to “repent”, or to force them to make undertakings not to criticize the government. The vast majority of Saudi Arabian citizens are Sunni Muslims and the Wahhabi interpretation of Islam is the official version followed by the state. The public practice of faiths other than Sunni Islam is not tolerated in Saudi Arabia. Even when practising their faiths in private, members of other faiths are at risk of persecution.