Sunday, 30 October 2011

Canadian Imam Beaten and Arrested in Saudi Arabia

Witness Audio

A Canadian imam who studies cancer research at the University of Alberta was beaten and arrested by Saudi religious police while reciting prayers in Medina, according to witnesses. Usama Al-Atar was attending hajj with an international group of pilgrims early Sunday when witnesses said he was confronted by about 10 to 15 officers from the country's religious police force. Observers said the officers beat him without provocation, chasing and suffocating him in front of more than 200 witnesses. The officers then reportedly took him into custody without explanation. At the time, the 33-year-old imam was leading a prayer service as part of a global pilgrimage with a group of Canadian, British and American citizens. British citizen Michael Hayward said he witnessed the brutal alleged takedown. "He was bleeding quite a lot from the beating," Hayward said in a statement issued to "They put his head to an air conditioning unit and sat on him until he was blue in the face." At-Atar has been accused of attacking Saudi religious police and remains in police custody, witnesses said. He is expected to appear in court tomorrow to face unclear charges, according to Hayward. The London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission is lobbying for Al-Atar's release. In a statement to CTV News, Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs said it was aware that a Canadian had been arrested in Medina. "The Canadian Embassy in Riyadh has been notified and our officials stand ready to provide consular assistance as required," a spokesperson said. Al-Atar is an academic originally from the Iraqi city of Karbala, according to the imam's website. His research on cancer and diabetes has taken him from California to Vancouver and has been widely published. Al-Atar is also the founder of Active Muslim Youth of British Columbia (AMYBC), a not-for-profit organization aimed at teaching youth about Islam. The renowned imam's website indicates that he started reciting the Qur'an professionally at age 14 and about five years later started receiving requests to recite the book in front of audiences. "When my children ask me about what I did when I saw people getting killed and oppressed, I do not want to tell them that I stood silently," Al-Atar said in March 2011 speech condemning violence in Bahrain. Canadian pilgrims travelling to the Saudi religious destinations of Jeddah, Mecca and Medina require hajj or umrah visas, according to Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada(DFAIT). Non-Muslims are barred from visiting Mecca or Medina. The Saudi religious police are known as the Mutawa and are tasked with enforcing the country's system of Sharia law. CTV News

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