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Saudi Arabia sentences hard-line cleric to five years in prison

April 12, 2012 | 10:13 am

BEIRUT-- Saudi Arabia has jailed a hard-line cleric who once called for demolishing the Grand Mosque in Mecca and rebuilding it to prevent mixing between the sexes at Islam's holiest site, local media reports say.

The news website said Yousuf Ahmad was sentenced to five years in prison for "disobedience" to the ultraconservative kingdom's rulers and "incitement" against them.

The kingdom arrested Ahmad last July after he called for the release of political prisoners, media reports said. Some reports said he was arrested after posting a YouTube video in which he criticized King Abdullah and top Saudi officials for the practice of detention without trial.

Authorities also slapped a five-year travel ban on Ahmad and fined him the equivalent of thousands of dollars. Ahmed has appealed the ruling, according to the Agence France-Presse news agency.

The New York-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch says thousands of people receive unfair trials or face arbitrary detention in Saudi Arabia.

Over the years, Ahmad has created a stir on more than one occasion for making controversial statements. Back in 2010, he earned notoriety when he reportedly suggested that the Grand Mosque be replaced with a new shrine consisting of up to 30 floors that would be strictly divided between men and women.

He has also suggested to Arab news outlets that only Muslim maids be allowed into the kingdom for work and that they must be segregated from men to prevent illicit mixing between the sexes.

And he earned a reputation for being a campaigner against women's employment. When Saudi Arabia's leading supermarket chain, Panda, broke a national taboo a few years ago by employing female cashiers in one of its branches, Ahmad called for a boycott of Panda.

After the incident, Saudi Arabia's top cleric publicly ordered Ahmad to stop issuing religious edicts without authorization.


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