Human Rights Agenda Urged For Powell Mid-East Trip
July 27, 2004
by Center for Religious Freedom
Secretary of State Colin Powell should place religious freedom issues high on his agenda in meetings this week in Saudi Arabia, Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom said today.
“In seeking Middle East allies in the war on terror,” said Center director Nina Shea, “the Secretary of State must not neglect to mention the terror regional governments inflict on their own citizens, especially in the realm of religious freedom,” said Center director Nina Shea. “Restrictive blasphemy laws affect both Muslims and non-Muslims, and governments routinely foment division and sectarian hatred, in addition to routinely violating universal rights of free speech, worship, and association,” she said.
While in Saudi Arabia, Secretary Powell should raise the case of Brian O’Connor, a Christian citizen of India, imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. O’Connor has reportedly been tortured and pressured to renounce his faith. In addition, three moderate Muslim dissidents, Professor Abdulla Al-Hamad, writer Ali Al-Deminy, and Mr. Matrouk Al-Faleh, arrested last March in the kingdom, remain incarcerated. Their offense has been to call for political reform.
According to the Saudi Institute in Washington DC, religious repression manifests itself in other ways in the Saudi Kingdom. Saudi court judges, all of whom are male members of the Wahhabi sect, often charge non-Wahhabis with blasphemy and pass death sentences based solely on the word of the accuser. In January 2003, Hail Al-Masri, a Yemeni fruit seller living in Jeddah, was sentenced to death by beheading for resisting his Wahhabi roommate entreaties to attend morning prayers. Twelve years ago, Saaed bin-Zulaique, then age 17, was overheard joking about religion. Arrested for blasphemy, he was sentenced to death and is still awaiting his execution. In June 2002, a statement that the Koran was “boring” caused 25-year-old Ali Thafer Al-Misaad to be sentenced to eight years in prison and 2000 lashes. (He fled the court and has not yet been found.)
“Human development and peaceful co-existence requires tolerance, not the hatred engendered by blasphemy laws and arbitrary sanctions impeding free speech and religious liberty,” said Ms. Shea. “That is the message that Secretary Powell needs to make loud and clear during his consultations with the Saudis.
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