A Saudi Arabian man has been sentenced to death for apostasy after filming himself ripping up a copy of the Koran and hitting it with his shoe. The timing is embarrassing, as the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the third in line to the Saudi throne, is meeting with members of the British government this week.
The sentenced was passed by a local court in the town of Hafr al-Batin on Tuesday, to an unnamed man who had “denounced his faith”, the Telegraph has reported. The man is said to have uploaded a video of himself cursing God and Mohammed.
A local official told the Saudi Gazette “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 death sentence was issued after his apostasy was proved.”
The man is able to appeal, and can also avoid his harsh sentence by repenting. Although the death penalty is the standard sentence for apostasy, it is not commonly handed out. Consequently, the timing is of great embarrassment coming as it does during the same week as Prince Mohammed’s visit to London.
It also comes shortly after the Prince of Wales’ visit to Saudi Arabia, where he met with the new King Salman, the Crown Prince Muqrin and Prince Mohammed. That visit was overshadowed by protests from human rights campaigners against the brutal punishment handed out to liberal blogger Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1000 lashes, meted out in instalments of 50 lashes at a time, and ten years in prison for his outspoken criticism of the government.
Mr Badawi had risen to prominence as an activist, calling for reform to Saudi Arabia’s mix of absolute monarchy and religious authoritarianism. But he was a victim of the crackdown that followed the Arab Spring, which the Saudi royals saw as a threat to their supremacy.
Prince Charles raised Mr Badawi’s case with the new King. Since then Mr Badawi has received no more lashes; Saudi officials have hinted that his reprieve may be permanent. But human rights groups are concerned about the rise of Prince Mohammed to power. Not only is he likely to be the first of his generation to become King, but his appointment as the country’s security chief heralded a crackdown on human rights and women’s rights campaigners, as well as jihadists.
Prince Mohammed had dinner with Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond on Tuesday night; he is due to meet Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary today, followed by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, Theresa May, tomorrow.
But Amnesty International has accused the government of “wearing a muzzle” when it comes to dealings 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 at every level because no issues are off the table.”