This news is about a month old, but the European Union has approved a report calling on Saudi Arabia to respect religious freedom. Unfortunately, that declaration says nothing about the right of the non-religious not to practice a religion or the right to criticize religion.
MEPs have called on Saudi Arabia to respect the freedom of religion and expression of all people living in the country. The European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs voted in favour of a report, drafted by MEP Ana Maria Gomes, which calls for a progressive package of reforms regarding the human rights and civil liberties of Saudi citizens. The report notes that the changing political and strategic context of the Middle East and North Africa has necessitated a reassessment of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the EU…
Currently in Saudi Arabia, there is no freedom of belief or expression. Sharia law forms the basis of Saudi Arabia’s legal system, and it allows no deviation from Sunni Islam, treating blasphemy as apostasy – an offence usually met with a death sentence. To aggravate matters further and increase the pressure on Saudis to adhere to the official government interpretation of Islam, the deep connection between the royal family and the religious establishment means that there is no separation between state and religion.
In February last year, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah Al al-Sheikh said it is “necessary to destroy all the churches in the Arabian Peninsula”, and in February 2012, Saudi King Abdullah ordered that Hamza Kashgari, a journalist who had posted messages on Twitter in which he imagined himself in conversation with the Prophet Mohammed, be arrested “for crossing red lines and denigrating religious beliefs in God and His Prophet”. Kashgari spent nearly two years in jail, without trial.
In their report, MEPs called for the Saudi state to “respect the public worship of any faith and to foster moderation and tolerance of religious diversity”. The report also calls for the abolishment of the death penalty (currently used against people found guilty of crimes which include drug offences, apostasy, sorcery and witchcraft), and for Saudi Arabia to “respect the fundamental rights of Shias and other minorities, including the right to full political participation”.
The report does call on Saudi Arabia to “ensure freedom of expression for all inhabitants” and to “make greater efforts to ensure tolerance and coexistence among all religious groups,” but it does not mention a right not to be religious.