Apostasy in Saudi Arabia: court dismisses case against online activist
Campaigner who mocked country's religious establishment will not face death penalty for apostasy
A Saudi court has dismissed an apostasy case against Raif Badawi, an online activist who was arrested last June for mocking the country's powerful Commission on the Promotion of Virtue on his website, "Saudi Arabian Liberals".
Apostasy carries the death sentence in Saudi Arabia, but the BBC reports that a court found that Badawi has no case to answer. However, it is feared that he will now be "shuttled between various courts to keep him in prison without attracting the further international criticism that a guilty verdict might bring".
As the Guardian's former Middle East editor Brian Whitaker discusses on his blog, Badawi was arrested last year on charges "that included 'setting up a website that undermines general security' and ridiculing Islamic religious figures". Offending posts on his blog included one promoting the celebration of Valentine's Day, which is illegal in Saudi Arabia, and another sarcastically congratulating "the Commission on the Promotion of Virtue for teaching us virtue and for its eagerness to ensure that all members of the Saudi public are among the people of paradise".
As Whitaker points out, charges relating to apostasy and religious dissent are frequently used in Saudi Arabia to silence opponents of the ruling regime. The writer Turki al-Hamad was recently arrested for using Twitter to criticise the Saudi establishment's interpretation of Islam, while two human rights activists, Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abdullah al-Hamid, are facing trial for "attempting to plant the seeds of discord and strife" in the Islamic kingdom.