Amnesty works to save lecturer from Saudi lash

May 15, 2008

An academic is pursuing a last-ditch appeal against a sentence of 150 lashes and eight months in prison for meeting a woman at a coffee shop in Saudi Arabia.

Muhammad Ali Abu Raziza, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Um al-Qura in Mecca, was convicted of the Islamic law offence of khilwa - being found in the company of a member of the opposite sex who is not an immediate relative.

According to Amnesty International, which has launched a second appeal on the lecturer's behalf after a previous attempt failed, Dr Ali Abu Raziza believed that the student would be accompanied by a chaperone when he met the woman. It believes that he may have been the victim of entrapment by students who are members of the country's religious police.

According to reports, Dr Ali Abu Raziza had upset a number of students during an argument in one of his classes. When a number of them then failed to pass their final exams, he received a telephone call from a woman asking him to meet her at a coffee shop earlier this year to discuss a problem.

He is said to have agreed on the condition that she brought a male guardian, but when he arrived he found her waiting alone.

Tim Hancock, Amnesty International's UK campaign director, said: "No one should face punishment - let alone 150 lashes - simply for meeting a person of the opposite sex. We're calling on the Mecca governor to ensure that neither the flogging nor the imprisonment is carried out.

"If he is imprisoned, we would most certainly consider him a prisoner of conscience."

Dr Ali Abu Raziza was originally sentenced in March; that was upheld on appeal by the Mecca Court of Cassation at the end of April. He has been suspended from teaching and is barred from other jobs that involve direct contact with members of the public.

Prince Khalid Al-Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, the Governor of Mecca province, is currently deciding whether the sentence will be carried out, Amnesty International said.

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