Saudi man sentenced to death for tearing up Koran
A Saudi Arabian court has sentenced a man to death for apostasy after he filmed himself tearing up a copy of the Koran, in a new test case for the country's human rights record just as its most powerful rising prince was visiting Downing Street.
Human rights groups were already calling on governments to raise their concerns with the prince, including the case of the blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced to 1,000 lashes for criticising the country's religious establishment.
Yesterday morning, Saudi newspapers reported that the death sentence had been handed down in the town of Hafr al-Batin to a man who had "denounced his faith".
He was not named but was said to have uploaded a video of himself tearing up a copy of the Koran and hitting it with his shoe.
"In the video, he cursed God, Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) and his daughter Fatimah and ripped a copy of the Holy Qur'an and hit it with a shoe," the Saudi Gazette quoted an official as saying. "The death sentence was issued after his apostasy was proved."
The death penalty is the standard penalty for apostasy in the Muslim world, though it is rarely carried out, even in Saudi Arabia which still carries out regular executions. The man in this case has the right to appeal, and can also avoid the penalty by repenting.
However, the timing is embarrassing, on the eve of Prince Mohammed's visit to London and shortly after a visit to the country by Prince Charles, who met the new King Salman as well as Crown Prince Muqrin and Prince Mohammed.
Amnesty International accused the British government of "wearing a muzzle" when it came to dealing with Saudi Arabia. "With the deputy crown prince's visit, UK officials should try to exert some real pressure on him over Saudi Arabia's disgraceful human rights record," said Allan Hogarth, its head of policy and government affairs.
"Under the new ruler King Salman, public executions have continued apace, while the free speech activist Raif Badawi remains in jail and is still at risk of being flogged." A Downing Street spokesman said: "We have consistently raised concerns that we have and will continue to do so." (© Daily Telegraph London)