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Saudi court postpones hearing of prominent preacher Awdah - son

DUBAI, July 28 (Reuters) - A Saudi court on Sunday postponed until December the trial of prominent Islamist preacher Salman al-Awdah, who could face the death penalty on terrorism-related charges, his son said.

The public prosecutor requested the maximum penalty for Awdah, a 62-year-old Sunni Muslim cleric with a strong social media following, at the last secret hearing in May on charges including "spreading discord and incitement against the ruler".

"After waiting five hours, they just postponed it until December," his son Abdullah al-Awdah, who is in the United States, told Reuters of the hearing scheduled for Sunday.

Awdah is one of dozens of clerics, activists and intellectuals arrested since Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman rose to power in 2017, even as the conservative kingdom enacted some social and economic reforms.

Amnesty International on Friday criticised the "sham trial" and called on Saudi authorities to release Awdah and drop all charges against him.

Awdah has "gone through a terrible ordeal, including prolonged pre-trial detention, months of solitary confinement, incommunicado detention and other ill-treatment - all flagrant violations to his right to a fair trial", Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty's Middle East Research Director, said in a statement.

The Saudi government communications office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After previously criticising the government over human rights, Awdah was arrested in September 2017 at his home a few hours after he posted on Twitter urging Qatar and Saudi Arabia to end a diplomatic row.

Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy where protests and political parties are banned, does not tolerate public criticism.

The kingdom has come under increasing global scrutiny over its human rights record since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year at the hands of Saudi agents, and the detention of around a dozen women activists.

Last April, Saudi Arabia beheaded 37 Saudis across the Gulf state, mostly minority Shi'ite Muslims, over terrorism crimes. The U.N. human rights chief condemned the executions over concern about lack of due process and fair trial guarantees, and said at least three of the men were minors when sentenced. (Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)