JEDDAH, 17 April 2008 — Officials at the Jeddah General Court confirmed yesterday that they are dealing with the case of a Turkish barber who is allegedly facing the death penalty after being tried for swearing at God.The officials said they were unable to provide specific details of the case yesterday and advised Arab News to contact President of the Jeddah General Court Sheikh Rashid Al-Hazza’a, who is on leave, on Saturday.Hani Al-Hajri, head of press relations at the court, also said he would only be able to provide details on Saturday.According to the Turkish press, the barber, Sabri Bogday, had an argument with a neighbor, an Egyptian tailor, and was arrested by police after the tailor filed a complaint that he had sworn at God. Bogday has reportedly been in prison for 13 months, while his accuser has disappeared.
Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem, a Riyadh-based lawyer, said rulings in such cases depend on judges’ own interpretations of the Islamic Shariah.
“Some judges consider it heresy and infidelity, and say that the accused cannot repent and so faces death penalty. Others consider the statement to be disbelief, thus allow the accused to retract what he has said and repent and then set him free,” said Al-Lahem.
He said according to Saudi law the testimony of an accuser would not be accepted if it were shown that he or she might have some ulterior motive. “If two people have an argument, the testimony of one of the two against the other cannot be legally accepted,” Al-Lahem said.
He added that the Investigation and Prosecution Board must have investigated the case before taking it to court and that Saudi courts rarely issue guilty verdicts in such cases.
“Sentences in these cases are limited and considered rare, because the judgment is not based on something that is written,” he said.
Hasan Al-Malki, a Saudi researcher in Islamic studies and history, said if a Muslim were to reject Islam and then later repent, the repentance would be valid. “Thus it seems logical that Muslims who make a joke or swear at Allah or the Prophet (peace be upon him) and then repent should be allowed to repent,” said Al-Malki.
According to the Turkish press, an appeals court is expected to look at the case within the next 10 days.
The case has attracted the attention of state leaders. Turkish President Abdullah Gul has written to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah requesting a pardon for Bogday, who moved to Jeddah from southeastern Turkey more than a decade ago. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also contacted Saudi officials on the barber’s behalf.