RIYADH (Reuters) - A court in Saudi Arabia has sentenced two men to lashes and prison terms for converting a woman to Christianity and helping her flee the conservative Islamic kingdom, the Saudi Gazette reported on Monday.
A Lebanese man was sentenced to six years in prison and 300 lashes for converting the woman, while a Saudi man was sentenced to two years and 200 lashes for aiding her escape abroad, the English-language daily said. It added that the pair had challenged the verdict and would appeal.
A spokesman at the justice ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.
In Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, it is against the law for Muslims to abandon their faith, a practice known as apostasy. Proselytising for other religions or practicing them openly is also illegal.
Judges have considerable leeway in how to interpret the kingdom’s Sharia code of Islamic law and are not bound by sentencing guidelines or a system of precedent. Both capital and corporal punishment are legal.
The case emerged last year after the woman’s family complained that she had been “brainwashed” by colleagues at the insurance company where she worked and that they had helped her leave Saudi Arabia via Bahrain on false documents.
The woman, whose name has not been released, was granted asylum in Sweden last year, the newspaper reported.
Last year King Abdullah, who has promoted limited reforms since coming to the throne in 2005, opened a center for religious dialogue in Vienna that drew criticism because of Saudi Arabia’s own lack of religious freedom. In 2008 he sponsored an inter-faith conference in Spain.
Reporting By Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean and Alistair Lyon