Saudi court imprisons anti-Western cleric


The cleric is appealing to the Court of Cassation against the sentence of seven months in jail and 150 lashes imposed by the court in the northern town of Hail, the Jeddah daily Arab News reported.

The imam, whom the paper did not name, had ignored several warnings from the Islamic affairs ministry to refrain from using political slogans before being removed from his post, it said.

He responded by sending death threats to the head of the ministry’s office in Hail, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Hammad, the paper said, adding that the imam had confessed in court to sending the text messages.

The imam “kept arguing with the judge that it was legitimate in Islam to pray against the governments of certain Western countries,” the paper quoted a “reliable source,” as saying. The Court of Cassation can either uphold the original judgement or order a retrial.

Hammad told the paper that there were a number of clerics in Hail who failed to meet ministry guidelines against political sermonising.

Saudi Arabia has moved to clamp down on anti-Western sermonising by its intensely conservative Muslim clergy in the face a wave of attacks in the kingdom by Al Qaeda sympathisers since 2003.

The oil-rich kingdom also faced intense criticism in the West for its longstanding support of Islamist causes after 15 of the 19 suicide attackers behind the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States turned out to be Saudi.

Earlier this month, Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz called on prayer leaders to use their sermons to help the authorities in the fight against Islamic militancy.

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