04/15/2009, 00.00
SAUDI ARABIA – ISLAM

Blogger convert to Christianity released from Saudi prison

Arrested for openly choosing Jesus, Saudi man is released after some months. He still cannot leave the country or appear in media, but many are surprised by the leniency. Under Sharia apostasy is punished by death.
Riyadh (AsiaNews/MEC) – Hamoud Saleh Al-Amri, a 28 year-old Saudi national imprisoned in January for writing in his blog about his decision to convert to Christianity, was released by Saudi authorities at the end of March 2009 instead of being put death as an apostate as prescribed by Sharia. However, he has been banned from travelling outside Saudi Arabia or appearing in media, Middle East Concern, a Christian organisation specialising in Mideast affairs, reported.

According to Hamoud himself, who is back writing on his Christ for Saudi blog, his release is due to pressure brought on Saudi authorities by the Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights Information, one of several rights groups that have campaigned for his release.

Hamoud was arrested on 13 January 2009 and detained at the Eleisha political prison in Riyadh. He had written in his blog of his decision to leave Islam to follow Jesus, and had also been critical of his country’s judicial system, highlighting widespread corruption and human rights abuses.

Hamoud had been detained on other occasions, for nine months in 2004 and for one month in 2008.

Following his arrest in January, the Saudi authorities blocked access to his blog inside Saudi Arabia. Google then locked the blog, for what they claimed was “a technical violation” of their terms of service, before restoring it on 5 February 2009 following public pressure.

The relative leniency of the Saudi police and regime in this case has surprised some analysts, given Hamoud's explicit claim to have left Islam, which amounts to apostasy punishable by death, and his outspoken criticism of the regime, something which is not normally tolerated.

In the last year King Abdullah has taken some tentative step toward modernising the country, opening it up to a dialogue with other religions, reforming the religious police and giving women a role in government.

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