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Saudi Cleric who Criticised Government Has ‘Left The Country’

Saudi Arabian cleric who criticised the government has reportedly left the country and is safe, a Twitter page attributed to him said on Tuesday. 

Activists had raised concerns about the whereabouts of Emad al-Moubayed who was feared to be missing after posting a video last week rebuking recent reforms in the kingdom’s entertainment industry. 

Al-Moubayed, a preacher and former imam at the King Abdulaziz Mosque in Dammam, advised “those in power” in the kingdom to “fear God” in a video shared on Twitter on 1 March. 

He further stated that the recent changes in the country were “erasing the Islamic faith”, as reported by the New Arab. The comments appeared to be in reference to numerous changes in the country, including allowing once-banned concerts.

Since the video was published, it has garnered more than 1.7 million views.

The video was addressed to King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Turki al-Sheikh, the kingdom’s chief of entertainment.

Then, a day later, another video was released that showed him speaking with a piece of paper placed directly in front of him. The video was tweeted with a message saying it was a “clarification” of his comments made in the previous video.

The Prisoners of Conscience Twitter page, an account dedicated to tracking news regarding Saudi prisoners, said Monday there has been “no news of him” since he appeared in the 2 March video published on social media.

The hashtag #WhereIsEmadMoubayed was trending on Monday, with many Twitter users worried about the religious cleric.

The same Twitter page attributed to al-Moubayed, which has only four tweets, said early on Tuesday that Moubayed had left the country. 

“By the grace of God, I was able to leave the homeland and reach a safe country, praise be to God,” the tweet said

Middle East Eye contacted the Saudi embassy in Washington for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has stepped up efforts to muffle political dissent, using cybercrime laws to sentence offenders to prison terms for online posts deemed insulting to rulers or threatening to public order.

Moubayed’s comments from the initial video he posted appeared to be in reference to Riyadh’s recent measures easing decades-long restrictions on entertainment, as part of efforts to improve its image, diversify its economy, and attract tourists.

Public entertainment events are a major feature of Mohammed bin Salman’s policy of opening up the country to western artists after decades in which cinemas were closed and concerts with mixed audiences were not permitted.

The kingdom has hosted several international sporting events, including wrestling, football, and world heavyweight boxing in recent years, in an effort to diversify the economy as part of Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 strategy.

Meanwhile, a number of rights organisations have called out such events for going ahead while an intense crackdown on activists and political dissidents has continued throughout the country.

Source: Middle East Eye