Blasphemy Case Moves to Appeals Court
Ebtihal Mubarak, Arab News Turkish Barber who works in the shuk.


JEDDAH, 21 April 2008 — The case of a Turkish barber who was sentenced to death at the Jeddah General Court on March 31 on charges of blasphemy will be sent to the Appeals Court in Makkah next week.Sabri Bogday was sentenced to death after two men, one Saudi and the other Egyptian, reported to the authorities that he had sworn at God and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) at his barbershop in Jeddah early last year.Bogday was made to appear before three judges — Sheikh Muhammad Al-Aamer, Sheikh Fahd Al-Ammari and Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Lihidan — at the Jeddah General Court on June 13, 2007.

A source told Arab News that Bogday admitted in court to swearing and did not challenge the witnesses’ testimonies. He also said that he was in no conflict with the two witnesses — an important point, since, according to Saudi law, the testimony of an accuser is not accepted if it can be shown that he or she has some ulterior motive.

The source added that the judges did not give Bogday the chance to repent. However, it is unclear whether Bogday continued to insist on the words that he had uttered.

Arab News also learned that the death sentence was based on a “hadd” ruling (a clear verdict based on laws from the Qur’an and Sunnah) and not a “ta’azir” ruling (a judicial interpretation of the Shariah law). In both cases the death sentence can be appealed. However, since the verdict in this case is based on a “hadd” ruling, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah would not be able to pardon the victim, as was the case in the Qatif Girl’s ruling.

At the final court hearing three weeks ago, a death sentence was announced in spite of Bogday denying that he swore at God and the Prophet (pbuh). The ruling was issued based on the witnesses’ testimonies and Bogday’s previous admission in court.

According to Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem, a Riyadh-based lawyer, some judges consider blasphemy heresy and infidelity, and say that the accused cannot repent and would face the death penalty. Others consider the statement to be disbelief and would allow the accused to retract his words.

“The majority of Muslim jurists demand that the accused must be given a chance to repent. Sometimes, those accused are not raised in a proper Islamic environment and are unaware of the consequences and meanings of certain words. Cases such as these are very sensitive, and so the trial must adhere to strict procedures and double check the two witnesses’ eligibility to testify,” said Al-Lahem.

Officials at the Turkish Consulate in Jeddah, when contacted, said they were not allowed to comment on the case and that it is being dealt with by the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Sources said officials from the Turkish Consulate did visit the Jeddah General Court at the beginning of the trial, but did not assign Bogday a lawyer.

Hussein Al-Sharif, head of the National Human Rights Society (NSHR) for the Makkah Province and a professor of law at King Abdulaziz University, said that he hopes the Turkish Consulate will intervene and assign a lawyer for the Appeals Court.

“The verdict is primary and not final. There are three stages that the case must go through before an execution can take place,” said Al-Sharif, adding that the case would go to the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Council and to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for final approval.

“Till today the society has not received any complaint about the case or a call to intervene. We have observed it through the media and will follow it up with officials, check the facts and offer any possible help,” said Al-Sharif.

“We’ll send an NSHR representative to visit Bogday in prison to get first hand information as soon as possible,” he added.


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