by Hakim Khatib
Atheism remains one of the most extreme taboos in Saudi Arabia. It is a red line that no one can cross. Atheists in Saudi Arabia have been suffering from imprisonment, maginalisation, slander, ostracisation and even execution. Indeed, atheists in Saudi are considered terrorists. Efforts for normalisation between those who believe and those who don’t remain bleak in the kingdom.
Despite constant warnings of Saudi religious authorities of “the danger of atheism”, which is, according to them, “equal to disbelieving in God”, many citizens in the kingdom are turning their back on Islam. Perhaps inter alia the Saudi dehumanising strict laws in the name of Islam, easy access to information and mass communication are the primary driving forces pushing Saudis to leave religion. Unfortunately, those who explicitly do, find themselves harshly punished or forced to live dual lives.
Unfair Trials and Atheists
Just recently Saudi Arabia has sentenced another atheist to death for uploading a video renouncing Islam.
The man has been identified as Ahmad Al-Shamri, in his 20s, from the town of Hafar Al-Batin, a village located in Saudi Arabia’s eastern Province. In his video, Al-Shamri renounces Islam and makes disparaging remarks about the prophet Muhammad.
Saudi authorities first picked him up in 2014 after he uploaded a series of videos reflecting his views on social media, which led to him being charged with “atheism and blasphemy”.
While leaving Islam is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia, the country’s Supreme Court, ruled against Al-Shamri on 25 April 2017, effectively sending him to his death. Court proceedings could last for months but when it comes to blasphemy, atheism or homosexuality, the sentence is more likely to be known beforehand.
Riyadh introduced a series of laws in 2014 criminalising those who spread “atheist thought” or question the “fundamentals of the Islamic religion”. According to Amnesty International Global Report on death sentences and executions, Saudi Arabia has scored 154+ executions, in which “death penalty was imposed after proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards”.
In January 2017, an unnamed Yemeni man living in Saudi Arabia reportedly was charged with apostasy and sentenced to 21 years in prison for insulting Islam on his Facebook page.
In November 2016, Indian migrant worker Shankar Ponnam reportedly was sentenced to four months in prison and a fine of 1,195 € for sharing a picture of the Hindu god Shiva sitting atop the Kaaba on Facebook.
In November 2015, Palestinian poet and artist Ashraf Fayadh was sentenced to death for apostasy for allegedly questioning religion and spreading atheist thought in his poetry. His sentence was reduced to eight years in prison and 800 lashes to be administered on 16 occasions.
In 2014, Raif Badawi was also convicted of blasphemy for creating a website dedicated to fostering debate on religion and politics.