Royal pardon for teachers who upset Muslim scholars

TWO teachers in Saudi Arabia who were sentenced to jail and flogging after angering the kingdom's Muslim scholars have received a royal pardon.

It was reported that Mohammad al-Suhaimi, who had been sentenced to three years in jail and 300 lashes after being accused of encouraging homosexuality and adultery, was freed after all charges against him were dropped.

His release follows a decision last week to drop charges against Mohammad al-Harbi, who was sentenced to three years in jail and 750 lashes after being found guilty of mocking Islam and favouring Christians and Jews.

Mr Suhaimi said he had angered conservative colleagues by telling students that love was noble, and that it was better to love than fear God.

"I teach teenagers who need love and affection at a difficult period in their lives," Arab News quoted Mr Suhaimi as saying. "I will not turn everything in their lives into fear and terror, especially their relationship with God."

Mr Harbi, a chemistry teacher in the ultra-conservative Qassim province north of Riyadh, was accused of mocking Islam and promoting Judaism and Christianity.

Newspapers said he discussed al-Qaeda attacks against foreigners in Riyadh in May 2003 and told his students Islam did not condone the attacks.

Human rights groups protested over Mr Harbi and Mr Suhaimi's sentences, saying they were being punished for encouraging open discussion.

The reported pardons for the two teachers came as New York-based Human Rights Watch urged Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah to overturn a court sentence to gouge out the eye of an Indian worker accused of injuring a Saudi citizen in a brawl.

It said a court in the eastern city of Dammam sentenced Puthan Veettil Noushad in April 2003 to have his right eye gouged out after he scuffled with a Saudi customer, who subsequently lost sight in one eye.

"This literal eye-for-an-eye sentence is torture masquerading as justice," Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Middle East division, said.

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