JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia: A Saudi judge has recommended that a liberal activist be tried in a higher court for apostasy, a charge that could carry the death penalty, rights campaigners said Thursday.
A court in the ultra-conservative kingdom sentenced Raef Badawi in July to seven years in jail and 600 lashes for setting up a "liberal" network and for allegedly insulting Islam.
On Wednesday, a judge remanded Badawi to the General Court on charges of apostasy, rights lawyer Waleed Abulkhair told AFP.
After Badawi's sentence, the appeals court had sent the case back to the court of first instance, where a newly-appointed judge remanded it to the General Court, saying his lower court was not qualified to deal with the case, Abulkhair explained.
Human rights activists said, however, that the apostasy charge was only a recommendation from the judge and not a decision.
But online news website Sabq.org quoted Badawi's wife Ensaf Haidar as saying that "the new judge has requested the case be referred to General Court, and demanded the death penalty."
Badawi, 35, was arrested in June last year in the Red Sea city of Jeddah for unknown reasons.
The network that he co-founded with female rights activist Suad al-Shammari had declared May 7, 2012 a "day of liberalism" in the kingdom, calling for an end to the domination of religion over public life in Saudi Arabia.
The strict version of Islamic sharia law applied in Saudi Arabia stipulates death as a punishment for apostasy, but defendants are usually given the chance to repent and escape being beheaded.