New York, September 18, 2008–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about the religious edict issued on September 9 by a top Saudi cleric calling for the death of owners of satellite TV stations that air “immoral” soap operas.
Sheikh Saleh al-Lihedan’s fatwa came in response to a question asked on Radio Quran, a state-run station in Riyadh, about TV channels that air “bad” soap operas.
”I advise the owners of those channels that broadcast immorality…I warn them about the outcomes,” al-Lihedan said in an audio file obtained by CPJ. “He who is advocating for depravity–if he is warned and does not respond, then killing him is permissible.”
Many of the channels that broadcast Western soap operas also broadcast news and other types of programming. Sheikh al-Lihedan is the chief of the Supreme Judiciary Council, the highest tribunal rank in the kingdom.
”We are worried about the safety of network owners and ask the Saudi government to ensure their protection,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “Saudi clerics have often used fatwas to set the limits of public discourse, stifling the development of critical journalism in the kingdom.”
On Sunday, al-Lihedan tried to explain his position after his fatwa resulted in an outcry in the media and among other clerics, but he did not back down. “If they are not deterred by the punishment and continue corrupting people through the broadcasts, then it is permissible for the relevant authorities to kill them after trials,” The Associated Press quoted al-Lihedan as saying on Saudi TV.
In March 2008, Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak, a Saudi cleric, called for the trial of two writers for their “heretical articles” and their death if they do not repent.
Religious fatwas have led to assassination attempts before. Farag Foda, an Egyptian writer, was assassinated in 1992, while Naguib Mahfouz, the acclaimed Egyptian Nobel Prize-winner, survived an assassination attempt in 1994.