On September 11, 2019, Al-Jazeera reported that Saudi authorities had arrested Sheikh Omar al-Muqbil, a professor of Islamic law at Qassim University, in retaliation for comments he made regarding a relaxation in policies of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA).
Sheikh al-Muqbil warned in a video that permitting certain western performers to give concerts in Saudi Arabia would erode Saudi culture. The statement was a response to a recently promulgated set of GEA policies, including a large investment in the entertainment sector, designed to foster social and economic reforms and improve the country’s image around the world. As of this report, it was not clear what crime Sheikh al-Muqbil was charged with, if any.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest of a scholar in retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from restricting nonviolent expression. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.