(CNSNews.com) -- A man from Hafar Al-Batin in northeastern Saudi Arabia was convicted and sentenced to death – beheading by a sword – for renouncing Islam, insulting the prophet Mohammed, and hitting the Koran with a shoe, according to the Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq (The Orient).
The man, who is in his 20s and whose name has not been released pending an appeals court review, was arrested in April 2014 and convicted and sentenced on Feb. 22, 2015, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which also translated the news report published in Al-Sharq.
In April last year it was reported in Al-Sharq that the young man was arrested for “atheism and involvement in insulting the divine and several Companions of the Prophet [Mohammed].”
The main evidence against the man reportedly was a video, uploaded on the social site Keek, in which he had filmed himself insulting Allah and Mohammed, “and tearing up a Koran and hitting it with his shoe,” said MEMRI.
In February this year, the general court in Hafar Al-Batin ruled that the man must receive the punishment detailed in the Koran for leaving Islam, if it is proven “that he renounced Islam and insulted the divine and the Prophet Mohammed, defamed him and his daughter Fatima, tore up the Koran and hit it with his shoe, filmed all these actions, and uploaded [the video] to Keek,” the newspaper reported.
The paper also said that, after the initial investigation, “the prosecutor-general ordered that the suspicions against him [the accused] be proven and that he be sentenced according to the punishment as set out in the Koran for renouncing Islam, [that is] by executing him by the sword.”
“Three judges of the Hafar Al-Batin court discussed the matter and proved the claims against him and sentenced him for his renouncement of the religion of Allah,” said the newspaper. “The sentence included Koran verses, hadiths, and quotes from scholars stating that anyone who insults the principles of the religion and the sacred words must be killed, because the faith of anyone who carries out these deeds is null and void."
Al-Sharq went on to report, as translated by MEMRI, that a five-judge appeals court is now reviewing the case and the death sentence and that another five-judge panel from the criminal division of the supreme court will also examine the case.
Those judges “will examine the sentence and the circumstances surrounding it and the extent to which it corresponds to the laws of sharia and of the legal system,” said Al-Sharq, “and after that [the supreme court] will decide whether or not to approve the sentence.”
MEMRI quoted Sheikh Abdallah bin Mufrih Al Anzi, a preacher for the Saudi Islamic Affairs Ministry, who explained the penalty for renouncing Islam, and who further quoted Sheikh Al-Fawzan, a member of the Saudi Council of Senior Scholars, who said, “Anyone insulting Allah or the Prophet Mohammed must be killed, and his repentance [is not accepted], because this is the most severe level of renouncement of Islam.”
The convicted man’s lawyer, Tharawi Al-Muflih, as reported by Al-Sharq on March 2, said that his client was a drug addict and an alcoholic and in need of psychological treatment. The lawyer reportedly had asked the court to allow a medical committee to examine his client to determine if he was competent to stand trial but this request had been denied.
According to the U.S. State Department’s 2013 human rights report on Saudi Arabia, “The law forbids apostasy and blasphemy, which legally can carry the death penalty, although there have not been any modern instances of death sentences for these crimes. Statements construed by authorities to constitute defamation of the king, monarchy, governing system, or the al-Saud family have resulted in criminal charges for several Saudis advocating government reform."
The Koran and the Sunna (the traditions of the Prophet Mohammed) serve as the constitution for Saudi Arabia, said the State Department.
Among the major human rights problems in Saudi Arabia are “pervasive restrictions on universal rights such as freedom of expression, including on the Internet, and freedom of assembly, association, movement, and religion; and a lack of equal rights for women, children, and noncitizen workers,” according to the U.S. State Department.