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Barber Insults Islam, Receives Saudi Death Sentence

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I have never blogged about a story like this before. I usually stick to U.S. politics, but I came across an outrageous developing situation; this is a story that I feel needs telling.

The only information that I can find, in English, comes from Human Rights Watch so I will quote their release throughout the post. The circumstances surrounding this ugly situation involve a barber, a blogger, and a pending death sentence in Saudi Arabia. I am hoping the Huffington Post community will help take action and bring much needed attention to these barbaric events taking place on the other side of the world.

Here is the story, as I understand it: Recently, a Turkish-born barber, living in Saudi Arabia received the death sentence. What was his crime you ask? Someone overheard him saying something that might have been insulting to Islam.

Bogday, a Turkish national who had worked in Jeddah for 11 years as a barber, allegedly insulted God during an argument with a Saudi client and an Egyptian neighbor. Bogday, who did not have a lawyer in court, denied cursing God, but the three judges of the lower court regarded the testimony by the Saudi and the Egyptian witnesses as sufficient proof that Bogday had committed the crime of apostasy, or defection from Islam.

What's worse, a "web critic", or blogger as we would call him, is now involved in the situation and he faces a five-year prison sentence and a 3 million riyal, (US-$800,000), fine for "setting up an electronic site that insults Islam."

On May 5, the prosecution service in Jeddah charged Ra'if Badawi with "setting up an electronic site that insults Islam," and referred the case to court, asking for a five-year prison sentence and a 3 million riyal (US$800,000) fine. Unknown persons have hacked Badawi's website multiple times, and have published his phone numbers, work address, and a threat on the hacked site: "Oh you retard, you are in the land of Muhammad, peace be upon him. Underline 'Muhammad' with a thousand lines before a thousand swords are put above your neck!" Prosecutors have not investigated the hackers or the death threats against Badawi.

So far only Human Rights Watch has taken up Bogday's cause. On May 13, the organization issued a press release condemning Bogday's sentence and called for the case to be overturned. There have been indications that the Turkish government is requesting Bogday's release, but there has been no official report.

This situation is completely nuts and no reporters are stepping up to the plate to tell this man's story. The tenets of international law regarding the freedom of expression require the release of both Bogday and the Saudi blogger who reported the incident.

Remember that last year a case involving a Saudi woman who was gang-raped and sentenced to 200 lashes drew immense international criticism. This scrutiny from both the U.S. and international press resulted in the Saudi courts overturning her sentence. We know that when the press makes noise and public opinion sways, people's lives are saved.

This case, and cases like it, have occurred and will continue to occur as long as international voices remain silent. I am not a human rights expert nor am I someone who seeks to expose the many cases that happen around the world. I am, instead, someone who stumbled upon this case and felt the need to shine a light on it.

My sincere hope is that others will see this story and decide to report further on the circumstances of this situation. It is clear that we require more information to determine the facts, but it is certain that, in doing so, time is of the essence.

UPDATE: The press is finally catching on. Congrats to the Huff Post community for helping to push this story.

Saudi law may lead to Turk's beheading [Los Angeles Times]
Saudi barber faces beheading for cursing [United Press International]


-Peter Slutsky