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Prominent Saudi writer's safety at risk after arrest

(PEN International/IFEX) - 11 January 2013 - PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee fears for the safety of writer Turki Al-Hamad and editor Raef Badawi.

Al-Hamad was arrested on 24 December 2012 after a series of controversial tweets, and is at risk of being charged with apostasy, which carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.

Raef Badawi was arrested on 17 June 2012 and was also charged with apostasy for his online writings. PEN demands their immediate and unconditional release, in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also calls upon the Saudi authorities to ensure that they are treated humanely while detained.

Turki Al-Hamad was arrested on the orders of the Minister of Interior Prince Mohammed Bin Naif for posting several tweets in which he criticised Islamists. The tweets caused strong reactions from the religious establishment. Al-Hamad, is a political analyst and a highly respected author and novelist, who was jailed in his youth for political activism before moving to the US for graduate school.

He has been previously denounced by clerics in Saudi Arabia for his novels, which are banned, and he reportedly received several death threats in 2003. Raef Badawi is a co-founder and editor of the Liberal Saudi Network, a website and online forum created to foster political and social debate in Saudi Arabia. He was arrested on 17 June 2012 in Jeddah after organising a conference to mark a “day of liberalism”.

The conference, which was to have taken place in Jeddah on 7 May, was banned by the authorities. On 17 December 2012, Badawi appeared before the district court in Jeddah charged with “setting up a website that undermines general security”, “ridiculing Islamic religious figures” and “going beyond the realm of obedience”.

It is reported that during the hearing the Judge prevented Raef Badawi's lawyer from representing him in court. The Judge transferred the case to the higher Public Court on a charge of apostasy (renunciation of a religious faith). On 22 December 2012, the General Court in Jeddah decided to proceed with the apostasy charges. Badawi had previously been summoned before court in 2006 for “insulting Islam” after critical comments about the Islamists and the Salafists posted on his website.

In addition, writer Hamza Kashgari who was extradited on 9 February 2012 from Malaysia to Saudi Arabia is still detained. He is facing charges of blasphemy stemming from a series of tweets addressed to the Prophet Mohammed on the anniversary of the Prophet's birth on 4 February 2012.

It is reported that a Sharia court in Riyadh has accepted his repentance in the presence of his family, and that he showed his regret over what he has written about the Prophet.

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