By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA (BosNewsLife)– An Islamic court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced to death a young Saudi man for renouncing his Muslim religion and “various other acts of blasphemy”, BosNewsLife monitored Thursday, February 26.
The man, in his 20s, posted an online video ripping up a copy of the Koran, deemed a holy book by Islam, and hitting it with a shoe, reported English-language daily Saudi Gazette from Hafr-Al-Batin city, 430 kilometers (267 miles) north of Riyadh.
“In the video he cursed God, Prophet Muhammad…and his daughter Fatimah and ripped a copy of the Holy
Koran and hit it with a shoe,” the newspaper said. “The death sentence was issued after his apostasy was proven.”
He was expected to be executed by public beheading.
The case was expected to add to concerns among Christian converts and other minorities, while
rights groups have said he Saudi justice system suffers from a lack of transparency
and due process.
Defendants are often denied basic rights such as legal representation and that sentencing can be arbitrary, according to rights activists.
The Saudi government defended its judicial system.
A shaikh at the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Abdullah AlEnizi, reportedly said that renouncing Islam isn’t new but should be punished. “It has existed since the age of the Prophet and there are multiple Koranic verses on it…Cursing the Prophet and the Koran is a form of conversion that must be dealt with accordingly through the court,” the official was quoted as saying.
The man, whose name was not immediately released, was detained last year by the key religious authority in his city, the Hafr AlBatin branch of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice.
Saudi Arabia, the United States’ top Arab ally and birthplace of Islam, follows the strict Wahhabi Sunni Muslim school and gives the clergy control over its justice system.
Under the Wahhabi interpretation of Sharia Islamic law, “apostasy” demands the death penalty,
as do some other religious offences like sorcery.
Blasphemy and criticism of senior Muslim clerics have incurred jail terms and corporal punishment, experts say.
Last year a court in Jeddah sentenced Saudi liberal Raif Badawi to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in
prison for publishing criticism of the kingdom’s ruling religious and political elite and calling
for reforms in Islam.
The first of 50 of those lashes were carried out in January, but subsequent rounds of flogging have
not occurred. Officials have not publicly commented on the case, but Reuters news agency quoted
insiders as saying the lashing appears to have been quietly dropped.
Katrina Lantos Swett, chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and
six colleagues sent a letter on January 20 to the Saudi government, each offering to take 100 of Badawi’s lashes.
She later urged others to join their campaign.
Part of what fueled the commission’s outrage was the timing of Badawi’s punishment and its
juxtaposition to the recent Charlie Hebdo killings, Swett said in an interview.
Two days before Badawi received his first 50 lashes, Islamic terrorists descended on Paris and shot
12 journalists dead for perceived disrespect to the Prophet Mohammed through published cartoon depictions.
Two days later, she noted, 40 world leaders descended on Paris in a show of solidarity, decrying terrorism and defending freedom of expression. Among them: the Saudi ambassador to France.