New York, September 22, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about an edict issued Saturday by a top Saudi Muslim cleric, who said that writers who challenge or criticize religious sheikhs should be fired from their jobs, flogged, and jailed.
Sheikh Abdallah Ben Jabreen, a former member of the Saudi Arabia’s Establishment of Fatwas, told Al-Majd TV, a privately owned channel in Saudi Arabia, that journalists who criticize religious figures should be punished, according to multiple news reports.
Ben Jabreen’s fatwa came in support of an edict issued last week by Sheikh Saleh al-Lihedan, who called for the deaths of owners of television channels that broadcast “immoral” programs. In a statement, CPJ expressed concern about al-Lihedan’s fatwa. Al-Lihedan’s fatwa was met with a wave of other criticism from journalists, writers, and human rights groups.
“Those (writers) and journalists and satellite TVs who attack scholars, and particularly well-known sheikhs, and publish bad bulletins about them—they must be punished … even by lengthy imprisonment …or by dismissing them from their jobs, and flogging and rebuking,” Al-Masry al-youm, a leading Egyptian independent daily, quoted Ben Jabreen as saying during the broadcast.
“We fear for the safety of journalists and writers in the Middle East when senior religious figures issue calls for the imprisonment and flogging of their critics,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The Saudi authorities must take a stand against such sinister edicts and ensure that journalists are protected.”
Ben Jabreen’s fatwa was the third issued by Saudi religious scholars this year against journalists, CPJ research shows. In March 2008, Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak called for the trial of two writers for their “heretical articles” and urged their death if they did not repent.
In the past, fatwas have led to assassination attempts. Farag Foda, an Egyptian writer, was assassinated in 1992, while Naguib Mahfouz, the acclaimed Egyptian Nobel Literature Prize winner, survived an assassination attempt in 1994.