Saudi cleric arbitrarily detained for denouncing discrimination faced by Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a minority

Saudi cleric arbitrarily detained for denouncing discrimination faced by Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a minority

Sheikh Al Habib was arrested in July 2016 while attempting to cross the Saudi-Kuwait border. He was put on trial for violating a pledge not to give sermons in which he criticised systematic discrimination faced by Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a minority. In January 2018, he was sentenced on appeal to seven years’ imprisonment. In an attempt to lengthen his prison sentence, a second trial was opened against him on April 30, 2018. The verdict is expected to be delivered on August 25, 2019.
Latest Updates
June 25, 2019: MENA Rights Group requests intervention of UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
April 30, 2018: Additional charges brought against him.
January 4, 2018: Appeal chamber of the Special Criminal Court sentences him to seven years in prison on account of “sectarianism” and “calling people for sedition”.
July 8, 2016: Arrested at the Khafji border crossing between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
December 2012: Forced to sign a pledge not to give sermons that could be considered objectionable.

Sheikh Al Habib is a cleric known for supporting protests against the systematic discrimination faced by Saudi Arabia’s Shi’a minority. He first faced intimidation from the authorities in December 2012 over a sermon delivered in July 2012 in which he denounced religious hatred against the Shi’a community and called upon the government to put an end to sectarianism. Al Habib was forced to sign a pledge not to give sermons that could be considered objectionable. Notwithstanding this restriction to his right to freedom of expression, he continued to oppose state-sponsored discrimination, notably in school curricula.

On July 8, 2016, he was arrested at the Khafji border crossing between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait before being held incommunicado for four months, and denied his right to contact his family and lawyer. On October 27, 2016, he was charged by the Specialised Criminal Court (SCC) with violating the terms of the pledge he had signed. Although the SCC initially found him not guilty, this decision was overturned on appeal by the SCC, which sentenced him to seven years in prison on account of “sectarianism” and “calling people for sedition”, based on royal decree No. 44. While serving his sentence, he was further charged with “endeavouring to shake the societal fabric and national unity by supporting protests in inciting riots in al-Qatif Governorate”; “attempting to leave Saudi Arabia to Kuwait irregularly”; and “violating the Cybercrime Law”. A hearing in the second case is scheduled for August 25, 2019 and is expected to include the verdict.

In its communication addressed to the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, MENA Rights Group highlighted that Sheikh Al Habib’s arrest constituted a violation of international law on the grounds of discrimination on the basis of his membership of a persecuted and marginalised religious minority group.