A Saudi imam has been sentenced to 12-year jail after he led prayers on the grounds of the Hagia in Turkey.
Saudi rights organization `Prisoners of Conscience’ said Abdullah Basfar and awarded the sentence “in the context of accepting an invitation to lead worshippers in the courtyard of the Hagia Sophia mosque in Turkey.”
“We condemn the ruling… and we call on the authorities to release him unconditionally,” the monitor added.
Basfar was a renowned religious figure in the country, formerly holding an associate professorship in Sharia and Islamic Studies at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah.
He was arrested in August 2020, after a video of him leading prayers at the famous Istanbul mosque back in 2014 spread online, according to Prisoners of Conscience.
He was held in pre-trial detention for two years, during which time he was harassed by interrogators.
It is unclear exactly what charges Basfar was convicted on.
His leading of prayer at the mosque in 2014 came during a deep low in Saudi-Turkish diplomatic relations.
Media reports said ties between the two countries had taken a massive hit a year earlier after a military coup spearheaded by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ousted Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
Basfar’s leading of the prayers took place when the historic Hagia Sophia was still a museum before it was turned into a mosque by Turkish authorities in 2020.
The Hagia Sophia was founded as a Christian church under the Byzantine Empire in the sixth century but later became a mosque following the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul.
It was converted into a museum in 1935, after the founding of the secular Turkish republic – but after a long campaign by Turkish conservatives, it was turned back into a mosque in 2020.