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ICC Note:

The crown prince of Saudi Arabia has declared his intention of returning his country to “moderate Islam” but the nation has made little to no progress on protecting the rights of religious minorities. Saudi Arabia bans the practice of any religion other than Islam, and anything that can be construed as blasphemy is a crime punishable by death. Christians in Saudi Arabia are consequently forced to live in fear as they secretly practice their faith underground, knowing that any outward demonstration of their faith could be a death sentence. Any genuine reforms in Saudi Arabia must take steps to protect the humans rights of religious minorities. 

 

10/25/2017 Saudi Arabia (Christian Today) –  The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, has declared his intention of returning the country to a ‘moderate Islam’. In a significant interview for the Guardian, he’s said the conservative state has been ‘not normal’ for the last 30 years and blamed the religious reactionary spirit on the Iranian revolution.

Now, he says: ‘We are simply reverting to what we followed – a moderate Islam open to the world and all religions. Seventy per cent of the Saudis are younger than 30, honestly we won’t waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts, we will destroy them now and immediately.’

If bin Salman is able to carry out his reformist plans, there’s plenty that religious rights campaigners will want to see change. According to the US State Department:

1. Freedom of religion is ‘neither recognised nor protected under the law and is severely restricted in practice’. The public practice of any religion other than Islam is banned. Its ‘Basic Law provides that the Qur’an and Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Mohammad) serve as the constitution.

2. The law criminalises ‘the promotion of atheistic ideologies in any form’, ‘any attempt to cast doubt on the fundamentals of Islam’, publications that ‘contradict the provisions of Islamic law’ and other acts deemed contrary to sharia, including non-Islamic public worship, public display of non-Islamic religious symbols, conversion by a Muslim to another religion, and proselytizing by a non-Muslim.

3. Foreigners who participate in non-Muslim worship can be harassed, detained, arrested and deported.

4. Shia Islam can be practised but Shias faced discrimination at multiple levels in the Sunni country.

5. Conversion is illegal and is grounds for the charge of apostasy, a crime punishable by death, though in practice the death penalty has not been carried out in recent years.

6. Blasphemy against Islam is also punishable by death.

7. Criticism of Islam is forbidden on the grounds of preserving social stability.

8. The calculation of compensation for accidental death or injury differs according to the religious affiliation of the plaintiff. A Jewish or Christian male is entitled to receive only 50 per cent of the compensation a Muslim male would receive; all other non-Muslims are entitled to receive one-sixteenth the amount a male Muslim would receive.

These are not the only instances of areas where Saudi law and practice is ripe for reform. According to the State Department there is arbitrary arrest and detention, and discrimination based on gender, religion and race. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other groups have documented many cases where prisoners are serving sentences based on confessions obtained through torture. Punishments imposed by the courts include floggings, though a copy of the Qur’an may be placed under the arm of the flogger preventing him raising his arm above his head, thereby reducing the severity of the lashing. Freedom of speech is not protected under the law and the media are censored.

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