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Cleric issues religious edict calling for trial, death of two writers for "heretical articles"

(CPJ/IFEX) - The following is a 20 March 2008 CPJ press release:

Saudi cleric issues fatwa against two journalists

New York, March 20, 2008 - The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the religious edict issued last week by a radical Saudi cleric who called for the trial and death of two writers for their "heretical articles" and their death if they do not repent.

Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak's religious edict, or fatwa, came in response to recent articles in the daily Al-Riyadh by two reform-minded writers who challenged a Sunni Muslim view in Saudi Arabia that adherents of other faiths who do not believe that the Prophet Mohammed is God's messenger are unbelievers.

"Anyone who claims this has refuted Islam and should be tried in order to take it back. If not, he should be killed as an apostate from the religion of Islam," Sheikh Barrak was quoted by Reuters as saying in his March 14 religious edict.

"We are extremely worried about the safety of our colleagues and ask the Saudi government to ensure their safety," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. "It is ironic that writers advocating tolerance and reform are subject to incitement and death threats."

The two articles by the writers, Yousef Aba al-Khail and Abdullah bin Bejad, were published earlier this year by Al-Riyadh: "The Other in the Islamic Balance" and "The Islam of the Sharia and the Islam of Struggle."

The fatwa was not covered in the Saudi print media but was posted on a number of Web sites.

"This fatwa accusing us of apostasy and inciting murder is a sign of extreme backwardness," Bin Bejad told CPJ. "It comes at a time when, unfortunately, public debate over important issues is absent in the media."

Religious edicts by radical Islamic clerics or groups led to the assassination in 1992 of Egyptian writer Farag Foda and to a serious attempt in 1994 in Cairo to murder Egyptian Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz.

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit

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