Saudi rights activist faces apostasy charge

A Saudi court on Monday referred a rights activist to a higher court for alleged apostasy, a charge that could lead to the death penalty in the ultra-conservative kingdom, activists said.

A judge at a lower court referred Raef Badawi to a higher court, declaring that he "could not give a verdict in a case of apostasy," a rights activist told AFP. Apostasy means renunciation of a religious faith

Badawi, who was arrested a June in the Red Sea city of Jeddah for unknown reasons, is a co-founder of the Saudi Liberal Network with female rights activist Suad al-Shammari and others.

The network had announced May 7 a "day of liberalism" in the Muslim kingdom, calling for an end to the influence of religion on public life in Saudi Arabia.

A conference which was to be held in Jeddah for the occasion, was however called off after the organisers said they had been "advised" by authorities not to go ahead.

Sharia Islamic law strictly applied in Saudi Arabia stipulates death as a punishment for apostasy, but defendants are usually given the chance to repent and escape being beheaded.

Saudi blogger Hamza Kashgari was deported in February from Malaysia to the kingdom and is being held in jail to face charges of blasphemy over Twitter comments deemed insulting to the Prophet Mohammed.

Kashgari's comments triggered a wave of calls to execute him, although he said he repented.

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