SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: September 12, 2017

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution


Region & Country:Western Asia | Saudi Arabia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On September 12, 2017, Saudi authorities arrested Awad Al-Qarni, an Islamic scholar and former law professor at Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University and King Khalid University, in a house raid.

Qarni’s arrest reportedly occurred along with a number of other scholars, religious figures, journalists, and activists considered dissidents. Qarni was a prominent member of the Sahwa Movement in the 1990s, which was critical of Saudi Arabia’s decision to permit the US military into the country.

On September 12, authorities reportedly raided Qarni’s home, confiscated all electronic devices, and took Qarni into custody.

The following year, a public prosecutor reportedly called for Qarni to be charged under Saudi Arabia’s counter-terrorism law on a number of counts, including using a Twitter account to share “at every opportunity… his opinions,” sharing views “hostile” news on Telegram, “incitement to offend the leaders of other States,” and “incitement to fight in conflict zones.” Qarni’s trial began on September 6, 2018.

On January 15, 2023, it was reported that Saudi prosecutors called for the death penalty in Qarni’s case. The court has not made a judgment as of this writing.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the detention and prosecution of a scholar in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from actions that punish or deter peaceful expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such actions undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.