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Saudi cleric hospitalised after five months in solitary confinement over 'Qatar reconciliation tweet'

Saudi Sheikh Salman al-Awda was arrested in September [AFP]

Date of publication: 18 January, 2018

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Awda was arrested after posting a tweet welcoming reports of a possible reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. He has now been hospitalised after almost five months in solitary confinement.

Prominent Saudi cleric Sheikh Salman al-Awda has been hospitalised after almost five months in solitary confinement, human rights group Amnesty International said on Thursday, citing family members.

Awda was among more than 20 people arrested in a crackdown on dissent in early September and has been held without charge ever since. He has reportedly been allowed just one telephone call, in October.

Amnesty said he was admitted to hospital in the western city of Jeddah on Tuesday and his family were denied any contact with him.

"The hospitalisation of Sheikh Salman al-Awda, aside from being deeply worrying and traumatic for his family, highlights his shameful treatment by the Saudi authorities," Amnesty's Middle East campaigns director, Samah Hadid, said.

"Five months after being arrested merely for exercising his right to freedom of expression, he remains held without charge or trial in cruel and inhuman conditions.

"The authorities must ensure that he receives all necessary medical treatment, that he is allowed to communicate with his family and a lawyer, and – above all – that he is released from detention," she said.

Amnesty said 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 its allies cut off all diplomatic and economic ties with the emirate in June accusing it of links to Islamic extremists, a charge Doha has categorically denied.

According to his family, Saudi authorities had demanded that Awda and other prominent figures publicly back the kingdom in the dispute but he refused.

Saudi activists have said Awda's brother Khaled has also been detained for disclosing the cleric's arrest.

Arrested for 'praying for peace'

Awda’s arrest came months after Saudi Arabia, along with Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates imposed a blockade on Qatar, causing a diplomatic crisis in the Gulf.

"May God harmonise between their hearts for the good of their people," Awda said to his 14 million followers on Twitter.

His tweet came after reports that Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had spoken over the telephone, marking an important step after four months of crisis between the two countries.

But optimism about dialogue between the two states was quickly dashed after Riyadh accused Doha of "distorting facts" and suspended dialogue.

Awda was previously imprisoned in Saudi Arabia between 1994 and 1999 after being accused of anti-government activities. Following his five-year prison term, the cleric re-emerged as a supporter of the Saudi royal family.

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