Amnesty International said on Thursday that the harsh sentence of Sheikh Tawfiq al-Amr shows the disturbing pattern of harassment against the Shia community in Saudi Arabia.
A court in the Saudi kingdom has given the Shia cleric an eight-year jail term and a ten-year travel ban. He has also been barred from delivering religious sermons.
“Sheikh Tawfiq al-Amr is the latest Shia cleric to pay a very high price for refusing to be silenced,” said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
The cleric has been charged with criticizing the country’s ruling system and calling for political reform.
“Daring to peacefully criticize Saudi Arabia’s rulers is no reason to end up behind bars. He must be released immediately in connection with these charges,” Boumedouha added.
Sheikh Tawfiq al-Amer has been arrested several times over his calls on the Saudi government to give Shias further freedom to exercise their religious rights.
“The conviction of Sheikh Tawfiq al-Amr by a special security and counterterrorism court reveals the extent to which the Saudi Arabian judicial system is arbitrary and unfair. Had the cleric signed a pledge not to deliver religious sermons, he would have currently been a free man. Yet the authorities seemed concerned about one thing alone which is how to punish him harsher for not obeying them,” said Said Boumedoua.
There have been numerous demonstrations in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province since 2011, with the protesters calling for political reform and an end to widespread discrimination.
Activists say there are over 30,000 political prisoners in Saudi Arabia.