A high school chemistry teacher in Saudi Arabia has been sentenced to a public beating of 750 lashes and imprisonment for, supposedly, "questioning and ridiculing Islam, discussing the Bible and defending Jews:"
A Saudi high-school chemistry teacher accused of discussing religion with his students has been sentenced to 750 lashes and 40 months in prison for blasphemy, officials said Thursday.Saudi Arabia, which the United States Government regards as a close ally, is an absolute monarchy that doesn't permit women to drive automobiles, vote, or travel unless they have the "permission" of a male relative. The ruling regime doesn't allow its own people religious freedom and freedom of expression remains unknown.
The court ruling was condemned by human rights activists, who said Mohammed Salamah al-Harbi was being imprisoned for having an "open discussion" with students.
Al-Harbi was convicted of questioning and ridiculing Islam, discussing the Bible and defending Jews, judicial officials said Thursday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Prosecutors acted after a complaint by students and al-Harbi's fellow teachers, officials said. The court in the northern province of al-Qassim heard the case Saturday in a six-hour trial.
Al-Harbi was in prison Thursday, but the Saudi newspaper Al-Madinah reported him as saying he would appeal the verdict.
"There are charges that the judge read which are unknown to me, such as defending Jews and the Bible, ridiculing Islam and witchcraft. It's strange that the judge ruled so quickly and wanted to end the case so fast," al-Harbi was quoted as saying.
His lawyer, Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, refused to talk to The Associated Press because of the sensitivity of the case, but he was quoted as telling Al-Madinah the judge refused his request to postpone the trial to allow time for a proper defense.
"The judge's refusal to read a statement by witnesses is a violation of the defendant's rights," al-Lahem was quoted as saying in Sunday's edition.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said al-Harbi had been "talking to his pupils about his views on a number of current topics, such as Christianity, Judaism and the causes of terrorism."
"The Saudi government is imprisoning schoolteachers for having open discussions with their students," said Sarah Leah Whitson, the group's Middle East director said in a statement Thursday. "As long as schoolteachers face persecution for doing their job, Saudi children will lose out."
Al-Harbi's sentence likely will be seen as a setback to Saudi moves to reform its education system. Following the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, the government altered the school curriculum to remove passages from textbooks that were offensive to Christians and Jews in an attempt to encourage moderation and tolerance.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in those attacks were Saudis. Local intellectuals and newspaper columnists said the strict Islamic tenets followed in schools and mosques could have played a role in fostering Islamic militancy.
On point of fact, Mecca, the home city of the Prophet Muhammad, is off-limits to those who are non-Muslims.
This isn't the first time that this extremist regime has acted barbarously toward members of the education community. In 2002, 15 Meccan school girls died and some 50 were injured because the girls were prevented by "religious police" from fleeing their burning school building:
Saudi Arabia's religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, according to Saudi newspapers.The Saudi regime both promotes and supports a militantly radical form of Islam known as Wahhabism. This sect is the dominant form of Islam within Saudi Arabia. The function of the "religious police" is to see that people obey their interpretation of Muslim custom and law.
In a rare criticism of the kingdom's powerful "mutaween" police, the Saudi media has accused them of hindering attempts to save 15 girls who died in the fire on Monday.
About 800 pupils were inside the school in the holy city of Mecca when the tragedy occurred.
According to the al-Eqtisadiah daily, firemen confronted police after they tried to keep the girls inside because they were not wearing the headscarves and abayas (black robes) required by the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islam.
One witness said he saw three policemen "beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya".
The Saudi Gazette quoted witnesses as saying that the police - known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice - had stopped men who tried to help the girls and warned "it is a sinful to approach them".
The father of one of the dead girls said that the school watchman even refused to open the gates to let the girls out.
"Lives could have been saved had they not been stopped by members of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice," the newspaper concluded.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to our fellow teachers who must work is such oppressive conditions.