12/20/2021, 16.05
SAUDI ARABIA
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Yemeni migrant sentenced to 15 years for apostasy

Ali Abu Luhum, 38, was convicted of using two anonymous twitter accounts to reject religion and promote atheism. This included denying God and posting content that endangered public order. The Saudis allegedly used Pegasus software to influence a UN panel investigating the kingdom’s involvement in Yemen.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) – A Saudi court sentenced a Yemeni migrant to 15 years in prison last October for apostasy, but the news only became public recently, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported.

The human rights organisation called on Saudi authorities to reform the kingdom’s justice system, starting with the decriminalisation of blasphemy and offences related to religion and personal beliefs.

In a statement, HRW notes that Ali Abu Luhum, 38, reportedly posted some comments online “via two anonymous Twitter accounts”, which prosecutors claim were registered to phone numbers linked to the accused.

"The court found that the tweets were promoting 'apostasy, unbelief, and atheism'", HRW said, reporting the trial was held without defence witnesses, in a climate of pressure.

Abu Luhum was charged, among other things, of denying “the existence of God" as well as publishing content that “prejudices public order, religious values, and public morals on social media”.

The defence has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, which is still evaluating the case. Meanwhile, Ali Abu Luhum is being held in a prison in Najran, near the border with Yemen.

“Saudi authorities are sparing no expense to portray the country as tolerant and reforming, but contradicting state orthodoxy on religion still results in a decade-and-a-half prison sentence,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

The modernisation of the Wahhabi kingdom, he adds, must first end the “policing people’s personal beliefs” and accept “decriminalization of blasphemy”.

“A ‘modernizing’ Saudi Arabia needs to first stop,” Page said. “As it seeks to modernize its criminal justice system, Saudi Arabia should urgently prioritize decriminalizing peaceful speech, starting with the decriminalization of blasphemy.”

In trying to reduce the country’s dependence on oil, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s "Vision 2030" programme includes upgrading the local version of Islam.

Recent reforms have included the social and religious changes, such as grating women the right to drive and access to stadiums.

However, all this has been overshadowed by the arrest of senior officials and business people, the crackdown against activists and critical voices, the sectarian convictions, and the Khashoggi affair.

More recently, reports indicate that Saudi Arabia used the Israeli Pegasus spy software against United Nations investigators called to shed light on the Yemen conflict.

Israeli software was reportedly used in 2019 to target the phone of Kamel Jendoubi, chairman of the UN expert group.

The panel of experts were allegedly put under financial, political and diplomatic pressure to influence the outcome.

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