A news report citing a relative and unnamed Saudi officials says Salman al Odah, Awad al Qarni, and Ali al Omari, are set to be killed after Ramadan.
Authorities in Riyadh are planning on executing three prominent Islamic scholars, a move – if confirmed – would be a dramatic escalation in Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on dissent under its de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
A Middle East Eye report, which cited an unnamed relative of one of the men, as well as two anonymous Saudi officials, said the killings would be carried out after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The scholars have not yet been tried, trials were initially scheduled for May 1 but were delayed without a new date being set.
One government source told the UK-based outlet that the executions would be carried out swiftly once death sentences were passed.
A second source told MEE that the mass execution of 37 men, mainly from Saudi Arabia’s minority Shia community, was a ‘trial run’ to see how the international community would react.
Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October last year, was a regular contributor to the outlet, which is headed by former Guardian foreign lead writer, David Hearst.
Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit team on the orders of MBS, according to the CIA, but Western powers, which are reliant on Saudi Arabia for their energy needs and as a buyer for their weaponry, have been reluctant to apply any meaningful pressure.
Since gradually assuming power, the son of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has shattered Riyadh’s domestic status-quo, as well as pursuing an aggressive foreign policy.
A 2017 article by Al Jazeera, which cited former US intelligence officials with extensive experience of working with the Saudis, described how MBS dismantled the Saudi royal family’s traditional consensus-based decision making structure and had instead focused power entirely around himself.
The change had allowed him to aggressively pursue opponents within the family, dissidents abroad, as well as religious and secular activists.
Odah, Qarni, and Omari, were not dissidents by any measure. All three shied away from criticising the royal family and MBS but broke with the prince by not offering enthusiastic support for his foreign policy measures.
Once a critic of the Saudi government, Odah spent time in jail between 1994 to 1999 after calling for reforms in the country. He later softened his stance against the state and enjoyed widespread popularity for his relatively liberal opinions on societal issues.
Similarly, Qarni is a respected Islamic scholar, who also had a large social media following and would regularly appear on TV talk shows.
Ali al-Omari was a popular religious broadcaster and commentator, who ran the 4Shab TV channel until his arrest by Saudi authorities.
The trio’s most egregious offence appears to be not backing the Saudi-led blockade and boycott of Qatar, which began in June 2017.
Odah, who has more than 13 million followers on Twitter, had simply called for “harmony” between regional leaders, without naming them specifically.
Human Rights Watch has condemned the imprisonment of Odah and other religious scholars.
The rights group’s Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson said: “Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s efforts to reform the Saudi economy and society are bound to fail if his justice system scorns the rule of law by ordering arbitrary arrests and punishments.”