By Worthy News Correspondents Stefan J. Bos and Johan Th. Bos reporting from the Netherlands
RIYADH/AMSTERDAM (Worthy News) -- Saudi Arabia has released Christian blogger Hamoud Saleh Al-Amri who was jailed after openly writing on the Internet about his conversion from Islam to Christianity, rights investigators confirmed Thursday, April 16.
"We are pleased that this brave Christian has been freed," said Open Doors spokesman Klaas Muurling of Netherlands' based Christian advocacy group Open Doors. "For apostasy from Islam, Saudi Arabia imposes the death penalty. It is therefore very special that Hamoud wrote openly on his Website about the way he became a Christian," Muurling added.
Another rights group closely monitoring the case, Middle East Concern (MEC) told Worthy News that the 28-year-old blogger was jailed in January "for writing in his blog about his decision to follow Jesus."
Although he was released March 28, the writer has been "banned from traveling outside Saudi Arabia or appearing in media," MEC stressed.
In a new entry in his blog, www.christforsaudi.blogspot.com, Hamoud attributes his release to pressure brought on the Saudi Authorities by the Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights Information, one of several rights groups that have campaigned for his release.
Worthy News and its partner news agency BosNewsLife also closely monitored the case.
His detention came five months after the daughter of a member of the feared religious police, or Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, was reportedly killed for disclosing her Christian faith.
Fatima Al-Mutairi, 26, revealed on Web postings that she had left Islam to become a Christian, Arabic media reported. Her father allegedly cut out her tongue and burned her to death "following a heated debate on religion."
Hamoud was arrested on January 13 this year and detained at the infamous Eleisha political prison in Riyadh, MEC explained. "He had written in his blog of his decision to leave Islam to follow Jesus, and had also been critical of the judicial system in his country, highlighting corruption and human rights abuses."
This was the third time Hamoud had been detained, having been held for nine months in 2004 and for one month in 2008, fellow Christians and rights groups confirmed.
"Following the latest arrest, the Saudi authorities blocked access to his blog inside Saudi Arabia." Even US-based Internet giant Google apparently locked the blog, "for what they claimed was a technical violation of their terms of service" before restoring it on February 2009 "following public pressure," MEC said.
Despite Hamoud's release, MEC cautioned that "Saudi Arabia remains a country where political expression is overtly restricted and only one closely defined version of Sunni Islam is allowed to be publicly practised." It said that, "Other forms of Islam and all other faiths are severely restricted."