According to the London-based Al-Hayat reported on Sunday, Hamza al-Muzaini - a lecturer in linguistics at King Saud University - was accused by Islamic culture lecturer Abd Allah al-Barak of defamation and insult.

Al-Barak accused Muzaini of "mocking long beards" and questioning his knowledge in an article published a few months ago, other reports said.

Al-Muzaini was sentenced to 200 lashes, four months in prison and banned from publishing, a verdict he immediately appealed, Al-Hayat said.

Personal matter?

Al-Muzaini maintains that his case should be examined by the Ministry of Information as it involves alleged libel, while Barak insists it is a personal matter that should be dealt with by a normal court.

The court has now appointed a committee to "implement the publications law, which dictates that cases involving publication (offences) should not be referred to (normal Islamic) courts", said Al-Hayat.

Saudi Arabia applies strict Sharia, or Islamic law, under which beheadings, as well as mutilating hands and floggings, are accepted punishments.

Kuwaiti's sentence suspended

In a separate incident, a liberal professor who poked fun at the way Islam is taught in Kuwait's state schools has been convicted of mocking the religion and sentenced to one year's imprisonment suspended for three years. 

Overturning the acquittal of a lower court, the Appeal Court also ordered Ahmad al-Baghdadi, a professor of politics at Kuwait University, to pay a deposit of $6825 which he will forfeit if he commits the same offence in the next three years. 

The court fined the publisher of Al-Siyasa, the newspaper that published al-Baghdadi's column $170. The judgment and sentence were handed down on Saturday and made available to reporters on Sunday.