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Saudi Arabia silent on reports of Makkah Imam being detained

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Saudi Arabia has yet to confirm or deny the reports of Sheikh Dr Saleh bin Mohammed Al Talib, Imam and Preacher of the Grand Holy Mosque in Makkah, being detained by authorities, reported Dawn (Pakistan).

The social media advocacy group Prisoners of Conscience, which monitors and documents arrests of Saudi preachers and religious scholars, had stated that Sheikh Saleh was arrested after he delivered a sermon on the duty in Islam to speak out against evil in public.

According to Al Jazeera's report published on Wednesday, Arabic news website Khaleej Online reported that in his sermon, Sheikh Saleh "derided the mixing of unrelated men and women at concerts and other mixed entertainment events".

Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, in an interview to CBS News in July, had said: “We have extremists who forbid mixing between the two sexes and are unable to differentiate between a man and a woman alone together and their being together in a work place. Many of those ideas contradict the way of life during the time of the Prophet (pbuh)."

Hours after his reported arrest, Al Jazeera added, both of Sheikh Saleh's Engish and Arabic Twitter accounts were deactivated.

Yahya Assiri, a UK-based Saudi human rights activist, was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying that the kingdom's "authorities are looking at everyone that's influential and has a presence on the scene".

Human rights groups had said that Saudi prosecutors were seeking the death penalty for five human rights activists, including, for the first time, a woman.

The five stand accused of inciting mass protests in mainly Shiite areas of the Sunni-ruled kingdom's oil-rich Eastern Province. Human rights groups said that the execution threat is a calculated bid to stifle dissent.

The Saudi government, however, has not confirmed that the activists face the death penalty.

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Saudi Arabia's public prosecutor has officially sought the death penalty against five human rights activists, according to Amnesty International, reported The New Arab (UK).

Among those accused is Israa al-Ghomgham, the first female activist to possibly face the death penalty for her human rights work.

"Israa al-Ghomgham and four other individuals are now facing the most appalling possible punishment simply for their involvement in anti-government protests," said Samah Hadid, Amnesty International's Middle East director of campaigns, referring to protests in the Shia majority and oil-rich Eastern Province.

"We are urging the Saudi Arabian authorities to drop these plans immediately."

Saudi government officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment, according to AFP.

Ghomgham, a prominent Shia activist who documented mass demonstrations in the Eastern Province starting in 2011, was arrested at her home along with her husband in December 2015, according to Human Rights Watch.

"Sentencing Israa al-Ghomgham to death would send a horrifying message that other activists could be targeted in the same way for their peaceful protest and human rights activism," Hadid said.

"The charges against Ghomgham... are absurd and clearly politically motivated to silence dissent."

Amnesty says at least 12 other leading human rights activists, including eight women, have been arrested in the kingdom since May - just before the kingdom ended its ban on women drivers.

Many of them long opposed the decades-long ban and resisted the system of male "guardians" - fathers, husbands or other relatives, whose permission is required to travel or get married.

The ultra-conservative kingdom has one of the world's highest rates of execution, with nearly 600 carried out since 2014. More than 200 were over drug cases, but also included other crimes such as rape, incest, terrorism, and "sorcery".

Most people are executed by public beheading or firing squad.

Rights experts have repeatedly raised concerns about the fairness of trials in the kingdom.

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