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USCIRF Deeply Concerned by Reports of Saudi Death Sentence for Apostasy


February 27, 2015 | USCIRF

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) expresses deep concern about reports this week in both Arabic and English language media that a General Court in Saudi Arabia sentenced to death a young Saudi man for apostasy.  According to multiple reports, the unidentified man allegedly posted a video of himself on a social networking site tearing pages from a Quran while making disparaging remarks.  The court used this video as evidence to convict him and justify the death sentence. 

“This conviction and death sentence fly in the face of international human rights protections, including the right to freedom of religion or belief, which includes the right to change religion or hold no beliefs.  The Commission strongly opposes any negative consequences for exercising these rights, while not condoning the desecration of religious texts,” said USCIRF Chair Katrina Lantos Swett.  “The government of Saudi Arabia should release this man and others who have been imprisoned and often are harshly treated for exerting their universally-protected rights to free expression and belief.”

“Along with this man, other prisoners of conscience in Saudi Arabia include blogger Raif Badawi and his lawyer, human rights defender Waleed Abu al-Khair, as well as Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani, a founding member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), with whom USCIRF met while visiting the Kingdom in 2013,” said Lantos Swett.

The Saudi government persists in restricting most forms of public religious expression that it deems inconsistent with its particular interpretation of Sunni Islam.  Despite some improvements in recent years on religious freedom, restrictions and punishments continue against dissidents and non-conforming Muslims, including for apostasy, blasphemy, and sorcery.  The United States has designated Saudi Arabia for more than ten years as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, for its systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom.  Although Saudi Arabia has been designated a CPC, an indefinite waiver on taking any action in consequence of the CPC designation has been in place since 2006. 

For more information, please see USCIRF’s Saudi Arabia chapter in the 2014 Annual Report.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov or 202-786-0613.