Saudi Arabia will execute three major Sunni Islam scholars after Ramadan, according to reports. The orthodox Islamic kingdom had beheaded 37 people, mostly Shia Muslims, in April, attracting very little condemnation globally. Saudi government sources have discreetly said the execution of 37 people at one go was used as a trial balloon to see the nature of international reaction, according to the Middle East Eye.
The three -- Sheikh Salman al-Odah, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Omari -- are accused of terrorism. But the surprising fact is that they are not terrorists, but moderates, in fact. Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist who was killed and dismembered on the orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) inside the Saudi Consulate in Turkey, had put this in context.
'Odah will be executed not because he is an extremist. It's because he is a moderate. That is why they consider him a threat," Khashoggi had said.
Moderate who denounced Osama bin Laden
While Odah is an internationally known scholar with moderately progressive ideologies, Awad al-Qarni is a Sunni preacher, academic and author and Ali al-Omari is a broadcaster with large following. Riyadh is going ahead with the plan to execute them immediately after Ramadan, despite the fact that they are known for their moderate voices and have large social media following.
That stands in stark contrast to the routine beheading and crucifixion of people accused of dissent, mostly Shia Muslims.
According to the Middle East Eye, Odah's Arabic Twitter account has more than 13 million followers while Omari's TV station "For Youth" enjoys huge audience as well.
Odah is known for the public rebuke of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 2001 attack on the Manhattan twin towers in the US and other targets in New York, known as the 9/11 attacks. Odah was arrested in September 2017.
He had also called for a reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar following the blockade of Doha enforced on the behest of Saudi crown prince MbS. His arrest happened after raising the voice of dissent.
'They will not wait to execute these men'
The men are waiting trial and lodged at the Criminal Special Court in Riyadh. Top Saudi government sources confirmed the three will be executed. "They will not wait to execute these men once the death sentence has been passed," one of the sources told ME.
Awad al-Qarni, prominent Sunni scholar, is one of the people behind the Sahwa movement and enjoys large international following. The 45-year-old Ali al-Omari is known for his campaign for women's rights and denunciation of violent extremism.
Political executions aren't an uncommon thing in Saudi Arabia but the startling fact is that the kingdom is annihilating moderate voices under the garb of its fight against terrorism and extremism.' Sarah Leah Whitson of the Human Rights puts this succinctly:
"These particular cases highlight how the government is pursuing its own extremist, intolerant agenda under the absurd guise of 'moderate Islam,' she said.