Saudi cleric issues fatwa against two journalists

“Anyone who claims this has refuted Islam and should be tried in order to take it back. If not, he should be killed as an apostate from the religion of Islam,” Sheikh Barrak was quoted by Reuters as saying in his March 14 religious edict.

“We are extremely worried about the safety of our colleagues and ask the Saudi government to ensure their safety,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “It is ironic that writers advocating tolerance and reform are subject to incitement and death threats.”

The two articles by the writers, Yousef Aba al-Khail and Abdullah bin Bejad, were published earlier this year by Al-Riyadh: “The Other in the Islamic Balance” and “The Islam of the Sharia and the Islam of Struggle.”

The fatwa was not covered in the Saudi print media but was posted on a number of Web sites.

“This fatwa accusing us of apostasy and inciting murder is a sign of extreme backwardness,” Ben Bejad told CPJ. “It comes at a time when, unfortunately, public debate over important issues is absent in the media.”

Religious edicts by radical Islamic clerics or groups led to the assassination in 1992 of Egyptian writer Farag Foda and to a serious attempt in 1994 in Cairo to murder Egyptian Nobel Prize-winner Naguib Mahfouz.