Awad al-Qarni. Photo credits: Middle East Eye
On January 15th, 2023, The Guardian revealed that Saudi prosecutors are seeking death penalty for legal scholar, Awad al-Qarni. Al-Qarni has been charged with domestic terrorism and using social media to share ‘hostile’ news of the regime. He has also been accused of joining and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which Saudi Arabia views as a threat to its regime and has lobbied the international community to label it a terrorist organization. Al-Qarni has a large social media following, over 2 million followers on Twitter and more on other encrypted platforms including WhatsApp and Telegram, which were also involved in the indictment against him.
Al-Qarni is regarded as a prominent and respected legal scholar by the academic community and has been the target of a smear campaign by state-controlled media, the Arab News. He has held multiple positions at Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University in Riyadh and the King Khalid University in Abha. He has written multiple books on Islamic Jurisprudence and has appeared on numerous television programs. Al-Qarni has been an open critic of the invasion of Iraq and the war on terror, and has voiced his support of the Palestinian people, stances which oppose the state’s position on these issues.
Al-Qarni was arrested in September 2017, when Mohammad Bin Salman, the now de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, was appointed crown prince by his father, King Salman. Mohammad bin Salman has criminalized the use of social media and has cracked down on a number of individuals for using social media and expressing their views, including the sentencing to 34 years in prison of a University of Leeds PhD student and mother of two, Salma al-Shehab.
The regime, under the crown prince, has invested millions in creating an international image of progress and modernity, and has undertaken sweeping reforms, such as permitting women to drive and allowing public entertainment events. Yet, it continues to persecute those who have a large media following and use their platforms to express their views, including women’s rights activists, human rights activists, prominent scholars, businessmen, and other royal family members.
Endangered Scholars Worldwide calls for the immediate release of Awad al-Qarni and all others imprisoned on false charges of domestic terrorism for merely expressing their views, such as Salma al-Shehab. We at the ESW have been monitoring the ongoing detentions of scholars and activists in Saudi Arabia for years and stand by the detained activists. ESW calls on the international community to join us and Middle East Studies Association in condemning the arbitrary arrest of activists and scholars and calls on the Saudi government to honor the treaties they are signatories to, ensuring the rights of free speech, free expression, and free association.