Saudi Cleric Thrown In Solitary Confinement Over 'Peace With Qatar' Tweet Has Been Hospitalized

The hospitalization of a Saudi Arabian cleric held in solitary confinement for five months highlights "shameful treatment" by the Saudi authorities, a rights groups has warned.

Sheikh Salman al-Awda was among more than 20 clerics, writers, journalists, academics and activists the Kingdom arrested last September in a crackdown on what state media defined as "dissent."

Some of them were accused of colluding against the country and having contacts with "external entities" including Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood, which Saudi considers a terrorist group.

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

"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."

Awda was arrested after he reportedly posted a tweet calling for warmer relations with Qatar, which Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have isolated diplomatically and economically for months.

Amnesty said he was arrested without a warrant from his home hours after he tweeted: "May God harmonize between their hearts for what is good for their people."

His family claimed he had been asked to tweet in favor of the government during the Qatar crisis, but he refused. The cleric has more than 14 million followers on Twitter.

Awda has been reportedly unable to contact his family since October.

"We do not know what he is being treated for and the authorities have refused to allow us to communicate with him," one of his family told Amnesty.

"We learnt that he was not in a good condition, but the government has not allowed us to communicate with him."

Another prominent cleric, Awad al-Qarni, was also arrested after reportedly calling for reconciliation between Arab countries and Qatar.

Saudi cleric  Salman al-Awdah
Sheikh Salman al-Awda was among more than 20 clerics, writers, journalists, academics and activists the Kingdom arrested in September 2017 in a crackdown on what state media defined as "dissent." Salman al-Awdah/Twitter

Why is Qatar facing isolation?

In June, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Qatar after accusing it of supporting terrorist groups and implementing policies that could jeopardize the equilibrium of the region.

Qatar has long been accused of sponsoring terrorism. The country has faced criticism for its alleged support of rebel groups involved in the war in Syria, and its ties with Iran, which is Saudi Arabia's regional rival.

Qatar has also faced criticism for its alleged support of rebel groups involved in the war in Syria, and its ties with Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional rival.

In July, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt issued Qatar with 13 demands it had to meet to end its isolation.

The demands included closing state-funded news outlet Al-Jazeera and reducing ties with the Muslim Brotherhood.

According to some analysts, Al-Jazeera represents "a thorn" for some countries in the Middle East as it has interviewed opposition elements and given a platform to Muslim Brotherhood.

Doha claims it has been targeted by a media campaign that aims to smear the country's reputation. It said the 13 demands it was asked to meet were not actionable and some of them violated the country's sovereignty.