Saturday, November 19, 2005

A Saudi high-school chemistry teacher accused of discussing religion with his students has been sentenced to 750 lashes and 40 months in prison for blasphemy, officials said Thursday.

The court ruling was condemned by human rights activists, who said Mohammed Salamah al-Harbi was being imprisoned for having an "open discussion" with students.

Al-Harbi was convicted of questioning and ridiculing Islam, discussing the Bible and defending Jews, judicial officials said Thursday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Prosecutors acted after a complaint by students and al-Harbi's fellow teachers, officials said. The court in the northern province of al-Qassim heard the case Saturday in a six-hour trial.

Al-Harbi was in prison Thursday, but the Saudi newspaper Al-Madinah reported him as saying he would appeal the verdict.

"There are charges that the judge read which are unknown to me, such as defending Jews and the Bible, ridiculing Islam and witchcraft. It's strange that the judge ruled so quickly and wanted to end the case so fast," al-Harbi was quoted as saying.
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