FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Prison and 600 lashes for criticizing Saudi religious leaders is barbaric
President Obama needs to call on the Saudi government to immediately release Raif Badawi
PHOENIX (August 7, 2013) – Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, a devout Muslim and author of “A Battle for the Soul of Islam: An American Muslim Patriot’s Fight to Save His Faith” released the following statement on behalf of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) regarding Saudi Arabia’s sentencing of liberal Muslim journalist Raif Badawi for essentially holding a discussion on the role of religion in society and government:
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s latest attack on liberal activists and individual human rights cannot be ignored and allowed to stand. America’s silence against our so-called ally, Saudi Arabia, is an embarrassment and appears to the champions of freedom around the world to be complicit.
On July 29, Saudi judge Faris Al-Harbi, handed down a typically draconian interpretation of Shariah law to Raif Badawi for supposedly “insulting Islam,” a charge Badawi vehemently denies. His subsequent sentence to 600 lashes and 7 years in prison is pure barbarism and the State Department’s response of being “deeply concerned” is woefully inappropriate.
Badawi’s crime? He founded a free “liberal” Muslim website, in many ways similar to our own at AIFD and so many of our liberal Muslim allies, that questions the role of religion in society and thus allegedly insults religious authorities. Badawi is the editor of the Free Saudi Liberals website and was arrested in Jeddah in June 2012 and charged with setting up a website that undermines general security, ridiculing Islamic religious figures and going beyond the realm of obedience. The crime of apostasy, which carries a mandatory death penalty in Saudi Arabia, was leveled against him as well, but the judge threw out the apostasy charge bizarrely claiming leniency.
This charge and sentencing is indicative of a greater more systematic strategy by the Saudi government and judicial system to quell dissent and invoke fear in their populace both on the internet and in public discourse intentionally making examples of high profile cases like Badawi’s. With a legal system that is based on radical interpretations of principles of Islamic law, judges are given latitude to interpret what constitutes a serious offense against the regime and render obscene punishments that are not within any realm of acceptable legal parameters. This system is profoundly oppressive and make no mistake is being used to keep the Arab awakening and calls for freedom from taking hold in the kingdom.
Human Rights Watch reported that, “Judge Faris al-Harbi noted simply that Badawi had created a ‘liberal’ website, and said that ‘liberalism is akin to unbelief’.”
Badawi is just one in a growing series of arrests over the past few years. Mohammed al-Qahtani was charged in a Saudi Arabian court in 2012 on 11 charges including: “setting up an unlicensed organization and ‘breaking allegiance to the ruler’ among other bogus charges. His organization, the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (CPRA) is a leading human rights organization in the kingdom being denied a license to operate by the Kingdom since 2008. Al-Qahtani courageously met with me and other members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom during our trip to Saudi Arabia in February of this year. Sadly, and again without a sound from the White House, just one month later, on March 9, 2013 he was found guilty of several charges and sentenced to ten years in prison and ten years of travel ban. In February, Saudi novelist Turki al-Hamad was arrested after he tweeted a series of comments felt to “insult Islam” in December 2012. The list goes on far more than we can begin to comprehend, and will continue to grow without leadership and exposure from Washington of these prisoners of conscience.
What is also disappointing is the tepid response that the State Department gave to the announcement last week of Badawi’s sentence. Failing to even demand Badawi’s release, Jen Psaki a State Department Spokeswoman stated:
We believe that when public speech is deemed offensive, be it via social media or any other means, the issue is best addressed through open-dialogue and honest debate.”
No outrage, no condemnation and no cries for reform, simply a lukewarm statement of concern followed by platitudes to a belief in “open-dialogue”. Mr. Badawi is facing seven years in prison and 600 lashes from a whip for expressing his views on religion, and the U.S., the greatest champion of freedom of speech and individual liberty fails to stand for those American principles.
The United States should adamantly demand Badawi’s release and pressure our supposed ally on their abysmal and exponentially deteriorating record at protecting individual rights and their very clear attempt to hold power over their people through brutal oppression.
Our system of governance is built on the ability of the individual to question faith, government and check the power they have over our lives. When we fail to stand for those principles around the world, we call into question the validity of our own society.
President Obama should personally demand the release of Badawi and all dissidents who are merely seeking the right to speak freely.”
About the American Islamic Forum for Democracy
The American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization. AIFD’s mission advocates for the preservation of the founding principles of the United States Constitution, liberty and freedom, through the separation of mosque and state. For more information on AIFD, please visit our website at http://www.aifdemocracy.org/.
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