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How the Huffington Post Helped Save a Life

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Back in May of last year, I came across a story that no one was talking about. Over the years, we've all heard accounts overseas about prisoners being held without due process, or the use of severe and often times disturbing punishment for crimes that would barely get you a slap on the wrist in America. It's upsetting whenever you hear it, and this story was not unlike those that we have heard in the past, except for the fact that the press was not writing the story of Sabri Bogday.

The Turkish Coalition of America (TCA), a group that operates as an education and charitable organization aimed at promoting Turkish causes, arts and people, brought this story to the forefront and as the facts of this case were detailed, the reality of what this man was facing became and more and more upsetting. Here's the quick synopsis:

Sabri Bogday, a Turkish national, was sentenced to death by a Saudi court on March 31, 2008 for allegedly cursing the name of God in his barber shop during an argument with a client. Reportedly, Bogday was not represented by a lawyer in court and did not have access to a translator. He denied the charges, but the Court ruled that Bogday committed a crime of apostasy, defection from Islam, under Saudi laws and regarded the testimony by the Saudi client and an Egyptian neighbor as sufficient evidence for the death sentence. The Mekka appeals court upheld the lower court sentence on May 1. Until December of 2008 Bogday was held in prison facing imminent execution, and his only hope was to receive a pardon from the King of Saudi Arabia. Bogday has 2 year old child and lived and worked in Saudi Arabia for over 11 years.

When this situation first surfaced, the only English language reference I could find to it was from the Human Rights Watch website, where they posted a press release calling for Bogday's release. No international news service, no U.S. journalist, no bloggers for that matter were writing about the story for an English audience.

So, I took to the Huffington Post and wrote a piece about Sabri Bogday and the situation he faced. I asked readers of Huffington Post to reach out to reporters, bloggers and others to help tell this story. I, along with some friends, pitched the post out to reporters who cover international affairs and I circulated the story around political circles here in Washington, D.C.

As a result, a few outlets did pick up on the story -- specifically the Los Angeles Times and United Press International and eventually the story got some traction.

In November of last year, I received a press release from TCA announcing that Bogday received a pardon from execution in Saudi Arabia and that his release from a Saudi prison was imminent.

Yesterday, World Bulletin posted this story: Turkish man in S Arabia returning to Turkey after pardon to their website. Here's the text:

A Turkish citizen who was sentenced to capital punishment in Saudi Arabia but released later, is returning to Turkey.

The Turkish Embassy in Riyadh said on Monday that Sabri Bogday would return to Turkey by the first plane from Jeddah to Istanbul.

Bogday was released after a court in Jeddah accepted his repentance early in January.

Bogday was arrested after a quarrel with a neighbor in 2007 and sentenced to beheading on May 1, 2008 on charges of "swearing at the God and the Prophet".

Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan held telephone conversations with King Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia and asked the King to pardon him.

While this story is unique, it's not uncommon. Throughout the world, there are Sabri Bogday's sitting in dark prisons, awaiting uncertain fates and at the mercy of a justice system that lacks justice and due process.

I have no way of knowing for sure whether or not this story could have ended up differently had it not been for TCA, the Huffington Post and the response from readers, but I do know that the power of grassroots journalism and blogs as a platform to spread news that is missed by the mainstream media is a powerful tool in our arsenal of spreading fairness and in some cases, freedom throughout the world. We never know when our action will make a difference, but in this case, I believe the Huffington Post may have had a hand in saving a life.

-Peter Slutsky