With Saudi kings viewing themselves as “Custodians of the Two Holy Mosques” in Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia strives to protect its favored interpretation of Sunni Islam, known as Salalfism or Wahhabism, at the expense of freedom of expression. Saudi laws are a complex combination of Sharia, royal decrees, and fatwas issued by the Council of Senior Religious Scholars. In addition to the typical offenses of desecrating a Qur’an or insulting the Prophet Muhammad, a wide variety of crimes can be labeled as blasphemy. Punishments for blasphemy involve prison, fines, and lashing by whip, and can range up to death; torture is often utilized to extract confessions. Blasphemy charges are made exclusively against those who criticize Salafism or the Saudi monarchy, or who practice any faith other than non-Salafi Islam. Recent cases include a Turkish man sentenced to death for “swearing at God” before the Saudi king granted his appeal, and a high school chemistry teacher sentenced to 40 months imprisonment and 750 lashes for discussing Christianity, Judaism, and the root causes of terrorism with students.
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