Saudi Arabia - Religious leaders condemned for fatwas declared against journalists



    MONTREAL, Sept. 16 /CNW Telbec/ - Reporters Without Borders today voiced
its deep concern about an upsurge in fatwas (religious decrees) calling for
the murder of journalists in the Arab and Muslim world.
    In the latest case, a high-ranking Saudi official, Sheikh Saleh
al-Luhidan, president of the superior council of jurisprudence, issued a fatwa
on 12 September 2008 calling for the murder of owners of Arabic satellite
television stations for spreading "depravity".
    "From Nigeria to Pakistan, and via Saudi Arabia, many journalists have
been targeted by religious officials in recent years after writing articles or
broadcasting programmes viewed as "blasphemous" and "anti-Islamic", the
worldwide press freedom organisation said.
    "These fatwas constitute calls for murder that endanger the lives of
journalists who are already working in conditions made more difficult by the
delicate political context in which they have to operate. We urge religious
officials to show moderation so that no irreparable steps are taken. The
highest Islamic authorities should publicly condemn such fatwas", it added.
    The religious dignitary in the Saudi case played down his comments a few
days later, in the face of an outcry prompted by his statements, but still
without backing down on the validity of his edict.
    "It is lawful to kill (...) the advocates of depravity (...) if their
evil is not removed by simple sanctions. The situation is very serious (...),
moral depravity being a form of perversion on earth", Sheikh Saleh al-Luhidan
said on a local Saudi radio. He was replying to a question from a listener
about "immoral" programmes (variety and entertainment programmes) broadcast on
satellite television during the month of Ramadan.
    Fatwas against journalists have become increasingly common in recent
years. Two journalists were targeted by fatwas in 2003 after they condemned
the backward nature of Islam practised in Afghanistan. An Iranian ayatollah
called for two Azerbaijani journalists to be killed in December 2006 after
they wrote an article about the superiority of European values. More recently,
a Pakistani religious leader declared a fatwa in June 2007 against the
editorial staff of fashion magazine Octane, based on a series of photos
headlined "Adam and Eve, the apple of discord".
    On the other hand, a fatwa issued by the Popular Resistance Committees,
one of the highest religious authorities in the Palestinian territories,
brought forward the release in 2007 of British journalist Alan Johnston, who
was held hostage in the Gaza Strip.




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, Executive Director,
Reporters Without Borders Canada, (514) 521-4111, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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