EU Wants Saudis to Respect Religious Freedom

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.

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  • D. C. Sessions

    I’m sure that the Europeans feel very good about this resolution, too. Especially since it won’t cost them anything but the electrons to publish it. At least, it probably won’t — the Saudi’s are unlikely to punish the EU for getting uppity. At least this time.

  • fifthdentist

    What’s the big deal? All Saudis are free to be Sunni Muslims. However, there is no granting of special rights to be Shiites or Christians or atheists.

  • zero6ix

    It always amuses me to see people still freaking out over both witchcraft and sorcery. One would imagine that an actual sorcerer would have next to no issue if we mere mortals decide to arrest them and put them to death.

    You would think that an actual lack of magic would help to answer a few other burning questions, but that would involve Saudi thought crime.

  • d.c.wilson

    Since there’s no chance in hell that the Saudis will change any of their policies in response to this, it’s all just empty words.

  • laurentweppe

    All Saudis are free to be Sunni Muslims

    All Saudis are already free to believe what they want…

    So long as they demonstrate their submissiveness to the royal family by paying lip-service to the written by the king’s inbred cousins salafist dogma that exists first and foremost to justify the royal family autocratic power.

  • gopiballava

    Baby steps, baby steps. This would be an improvement.

    When I lived in Saudi, they had public service messages on TV. One of them told you not to throw glass bottles out of your car window while you driving. Rather, you should stop your car and set them down on the side of the road.

  • Marcus Ranum

    Since there’s no chance in hell that the Saudis will change any of their policies in response to this, it’s all just empty words.

    I’m guessing that scene in “Deliverance” has special meaning for you, too?

  • Callinectes

    Is the link between the Saudi royal family and religion stronger or weaker than the link between the British royal family and religion?

  • Albert Bakker

    Callinectes, it would probably be very bad advise to try to find out for yourself. But you have to hurry up if you do, because now the mighty EU has called on the Saudi’s to catch up with the 18th century, there isn’t gonna be much time to find a distinction empirically.

  • laurentweppe

    Is the link between the Saudi royal family and religion stronger or weaker than the link between the British royal family and religion?

    By “religion” I suppose you mean clergy.

    In this case, the link is much much much stronger: the Al ash-Sheikh is pretty much the cadet branch of the House of Saud, and they’ve controlled the salafist clerical establishment since its inception.

  • Hairy Chris, blah blah blah etc

    It depends what you mean. The Queen is the head of an entire Christian denomination, but, well, Saudi Arabia.

  • thinkfree83

    The Sauds portray themselves as the custodians of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, which gives them a higher status than simply being head of a denomination (as is the case with the Queen). However, there are many Sauds who believe that the Saudi royal family is illegitimate for allying with the West. If you recall, one of Osama bin Laden’s complaints was that “unbelievers” (i.e.g, non-Muslim American soldiers) were stationed in Mecca and Medina. They also think that men from Muhammed’s Quraysh tribe can be protectors of Mecca and Medina. As bad as the House of Saud is, if there were elections in Saudi Arabia tomorrow, someone much worse would be elected.

  • abb3w

    So, how long until the EU is reassessing their relationship with the US and calling on us to end the death penalty?

  • chisaihana5219

    The EU already has told the US to abolish the death penalty. That’s why it will not extradite any US citizen wanted for a crime that warrants a death penalty. If a mass murderer flees to the EU, the US has to promise not to invoke the death penalty if it wants the criminal sent home. It is similar to a US law, that is not actually inforced these days, that we won’t deport a person back to a country that will use torture. We do that all the time with detainees, but the EU is more ethical in that it will not send criminals to the US for death.

  • eric

    Rots o’ruck.

    Since there’s no chance in hell that the Saudis will change any of their policies in response to this…

    Remember the post Ed had a week or so ago on largest militarys? Remember the Saudis were something ridiculous, like 4th or something? That is all US foreign aid. We could probably pressure them quite strongly if we were really, seriously willing to withdraw it.

    Of course if we did, and they decided they would rather stick with their current human rights and forego our money, the fallout would be yet another Islamic autocratic state deciding it was willing to harbor anti-US terrorist groups.