01/02/2013, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA
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Around 500 intellectuals sign petition for blogger opposed to Sharia

Turki al-Hamad was jailed on 24 December, accused of insulting Muhammad and the royal family. On Twitter, the activist compared the monarchy to a Nazi regime that betrayed true Islam.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Around 500 Saudi activists signed a petition calling for Turki al-Hamad's "immediate and unconditional release." The latter was arrested for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad and Islam on his Twitter account. The petition is addressed to Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the kingdom's crown prince and defence minister.

The petition's signatories included Manal al-Sherif and Najla Hariri, two female activists who defied the kingdom's driving ban on women, and liberal columnist Ahmad Adnan.

Al-Hamad is guilty of criticising the monarchy for its rigid interpretation of Islam. On social networks, he compared the Saudi king and the kingdom's religious authorities to Nazis, accusing them of twisting the prophet's message, spreading hatred and intolerance.

According to the 500 intellectuals, his arrest was "unjust... condemnable, reprehensible, shameful, and unacceptable," a violation of human rights.

Saudi authorities twisted his comments since they did not contain any reference to Islam as such or the Prophet Muhammad.

The boom in social networks has forced the Saudi Interior Minister to increased controls on Internet, especially since Facebook, Twitter and blogging have become the main tools to criticise the rigid Sunni monarchy, which bans all behaviour that does not conform to Sharia.

The worst case is that of online activist Raif Badawi, who was arrested in June in Jeddah and accused of apostasy, which carries the death penalty in the kingdom.

Badawi helped set up a liberal Saudi website, which declared a "day of liberalism" on 7 May, calling for protests against the stranglehold of religious officials on public life.

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