A Saudi court has sentenced a man to death for renouncing his Muslim faith and other blasphemy charges, according to a Saudi Gazette report cited by Reuters Tuesday. The offender had posted a video online showing himself defacing the Quran and hitting it with a shoe, a grave insult and a crime in the kingdom, which follows a strict interpretation of Islam.
The man, who is in his 20s, had posted the video on the social networking site Keek, according to the Saudi Gazette, which quoted an anonymous courtroom source saying the death sentence was issued after the unnamed man’s apostasy “was proven.” Last year an online campaign by self-described Saudi atheists saw a number of social media users posting images of themselves with ripped-up copies of the Quran while declaring pride in their atheism. The campaign followed the kingdom’s criminalization of atheism in March 2014, with the hashtag #CampaigntoTearTheQuraninSaudiArabia being tweeted more than 7,800 times in the span of a week, Vocativ reported.
Desecration of the Quran may be criminalized in Saudi Arabia but it is also an outrage to Muslims everywhere, with worldwide protests being sparked by previous offenses against the Islamic holy book, including after American pastor Terry Jones announced in 2010 that he would burn 200 copies. Under Saudi Arabia’s strict Wahhabi system of Islamic Shariah law, charges like apostasy carry the death penalty, which is often carried out by public beheading, Reuters said.
Other religious offenses like blasphemy and criticism of clerics also can incur lengthy prison sentences and corporal punishment. The kingdom has been criticized for its capital punishment policies, with the United Nations condemning its practice of public beheading as being “prohibited under international law.” Human rights groups have also criticized the Saudi justice system, which they accuse of imposing the death penalty under problematic circumstances, including after defendants have confessed under torture or been denied access to counsel.