Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor sought the death penalty against prominent cleric Sheikh Salman al-Awda at the start of his trial Tuesday in Riyadh, a year after his arrest, media said.
Awda faces 37 charges, the pro-government Okaz newspaper and other media close to the Saudi government reported, without offering any details.
Awda was among more than 20 people arrested in September 2017 in a widening crackdown on dissent in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
There was no immediate statement by the public prosecutor’s office.
“Reports that Saudi prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against prominent Saudi cleric Salman al-Awda,” tweeted Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Bringing the death penalty into a case like this is a major escalation in the level of repression.”
Awda was hospitalised in the western city of Jeddah after almost five months in solitary confinement, Amnesty International said in January, citing family members.
The rights group said his family had been denied any contact with him.
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, the 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.