A court in Saudi Arabia recently handed down a guilty verdict to a self-proclaimed atheist, who was also accused of posting hundreds of tweets, criticizing religion and denying God’s existence. The court deemed it fit that the unnamed man be sentenced to 10 years in prison, receive thousands of lashes and also pay a hefty fine.
A Saudi newspaper, namely Al-Watan, reported last month that the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice or the kingdom’s religious police, whose duties include scrutinizing social media posts, had found over 600 tweets posted by the 28-year-old atheist. Reportedly, the man refused to apologize for his tweets in court, stressing that he has a right to put forth his opinions.
Apart from a decade-long prison term, the court also ordered the man to receive up to 2,000 lashes and pay 20,000 riyals or $5,330 as fine.
The lashes would be divided into weekly bouts of approximately 50 floggings each and directed according to specific guidelines. The legality of the court’s ruling follows a series of Interior Ministry regulations that were introduced by the late Saudi King Abdullah in 2014.
New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch believes that these laws primarily seek to combat terrorism but are also misused by authorities to forbid virtually any expression or affiliation critical of the government and its interpretation of Islam. Apparently, these regulations contain provisions, including one that outlaws not only atheism but also questioning the fundamentals of a religion on which Saudi Arabia was founded. Human Rights Watch insists that these laws have been frequently misused to hush activists and peaceful dissenters.
Atheism is a taboo subject in Saudi Arabia, where the government has derived its rightfulness from its abiding by an ultraconservative version of Islam. A 2012 WIN/Gallup International survey found that approximately five percent of Saudis identify as atheists.
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