A man who posted a video online of himself ripping up a Koran and beating the shredded holy book with a shoe is to be beheaded in Saudi Arabia for renouncing his Muslim faith.
The unnamed prisoner, in his 20s, was given the death sentence by the country’s Sharia courts for the offence of apostasy – abandoning Islam – the Saudi Gazette reported.
Deviation from the nation’s enforced Sunni faith is harshly punished, according to Human Rights Watch.
Public worship by adherents of religions other than Islam is banned and anything deemed an insult to the faith can be treated as a crime.
The country’s interpretation of Wahhabism demands capital punishment for a wide range of crimes, including murder, rape, armed robbery and drugs smuggling.
Death can also be the sentence for internationally condemned religious “crimes”, including apostasy, sorcery, blasphemy and idolatry.
Executions are often carried out by public beheading. That was the fate of a Burmese woman in May who was dragged through the streets of Mecca and killed in front of crowds of people in January.
Laila Bint Abdul Muttalib Basim protested her innocence until the moment of her death, shouting “I did not kill. I did not kill” before she was executed by sword while being held down by four police officers.
She had been convicted of the sexual abuse and murder of a child.
Human rights groups say the Saudi justice system suffers from a lack of transparency and proper process that sees defendants often denied basic rights such as legal representation.
Although the government has made limited reforms to its judicial system, it has defended it as fair and shows no sign of reducing the number of executions.
In 2014 the number of rose to 87, from 78 in 2013, and seven people were killed in the first two weeks of this year alone.
Saudi Arabian ministers will be holding talks with the British government during a UK tour this week.
Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef will have dinner with Foreign Secretary tonight at the start of the three-day visit and is scheduled to meet Defence Secretary tomorrow and then the Prime Minister and Home Secretary on Thursday.
David Cameron has defended Britain's close ties with the kingdom, especially in relation to counter-terrorism intelligence and defence, despite human rights concerns.
Asked if the fate of imprisoned liberal blogger Raif Badawi and other issues would be raised, the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said: “We have consistently raised concerns that we have and will continue to do so at every level because no issues are off the table.
"We have been very clear about those views - including in the ongoing case that many people have in mind - and we will continue to raise that."
Mr Cameron recently travelled to Saudi Arabia for the funeral of King Abdullah and Prince Charles also visited rulers on a recent tour.
Additional reporting by agencies
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