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Saudi Arabia: Fate of Journalist Hamza Kashgari Hangs in the Balance

Categories: East Asia, Middle East & North Africa, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Citizen Media, Digital Activism, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, International Relations, Law

Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari set off a social media firestorm last week when he tweeted an imaginary conversation with the Prophet Mohammed.  In his tweets, which have since been deleted, he wrote to the Prophet: “I have loved the rebel in you” but “I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.” He also wrote, “I shall shake [your hand] as equals do … I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.”

Not long after publishing the tweets, Kashgari began to receive death threats.  His address was posted on a social media site, and clerics began calling for him to be executed, or tried for apostasy.  On February 8, he fled the country, headed for New Zealand…but was caught in transit in Malaysia by local authorities, who detained him; shortly after, news emerged that Saudi Arabia had issued an extradition order.

Malaysian Home Minister Hishammudin Hussein was quoted [1] as saying that Malaysia would repatriate Kashgari to Saudi Arabia. A Facebook page [2] in solidarity with Kashgari that emerged mid-week has more than 1,500 members.

As of the time of publication, an interim order had been issued to stop Malaysian authorities from deporting Kashgari:

@FadiahNadwa [3]: Justice Rohana Yusuf jz gave interim order 2stop Govt fr deporting #HamzaKashgari to Saudi Arabia.On our way to serve court order to police.

There were, nonetheless, conflicting reports that Kashgari had been extradited.

A battle of opinions

A battle of opinions is being waged on social networks, with many of Kashgari's fellow Saudi citizens continuing to argue for him to be tried. Their calls seem to be outnumbered by calls from members of the international community, as well as citizens of Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, for Malaysia not to extradite Kashgari.

Saudi blogger Ahmed Al Omran believes [4] that there's more to the case than meets the eye:

While I understand how many Muslims would take offense at anything that touches the prophet, I don’t think it explains the whole story. Yes, many feel strongly about such matters and therefore they reacted accordingly. However, it is clear that many on the right decided to take advantage of the incident to score points and make political gains. It was a low hanging fruit.

While some may perceive religious conservatives defending the Prophet’s honor simply as piety, others say there is more behind it, that this is actually part of a long-term plan.

Mariam, a writer for Arab News, is dismayed by the potential charges:

@onlymytweets [5]: I don't recall an Ayah or Hadith saying God has transferred authority to mankind to judge. Or is it just me? #HamzaKashgari @SalmaanTaseer

Self-described Saudi-American poet Bint Talal has been tweeting her concern for Kashgari's safety. She tweets:

@majda72 [6]: I want to go to sleep but I'm consumed with fear for #HamzaKashgari I keep checking twitter & fear the worst.

@RFatani [7] is angered by the reactions on social media, tweeting:

@RFatani [8]: 1000's of tweeps calling for #HamzaKashgari head to roll! They should be banned from entering countries that have ‘inciting hate’ laws

Writer Khaled Almaeena [9]‘s [ar] tweets expressed the widespread sentiment that the threatened punishments do not fit the crime:

@khaledalmaeena [10]: ان الله غفور رحيم ولو كان حبيبنا سيدنا محمد صلى الله عليه وسلم بيننا وسمع اعتداره وشهادته لسامحه ‎#hamzakashgari‏ ‎#saudi‏ ‎#ksa

@khaledalmaeena [10]: God is merciful and if Mohammed (PBUH) were alive he would have heard his apology and forgiven him.”

Among those in Saudi Arabia who were happy to hear that Kashgari might be extradited was @AboTamem, who tweeted:

@AboTamem [11]: @nsurendrann Our brother HAMZA in the way to his home…he is not under your law!! #hamzakashgari

@mkabmr [12] also felt that Kashgari went too far:

@mkambr [13]: Personally anyone who ridiculed prophet Muhammad PBUH is a persona non grata #HamzaKashgari

But @ArabRevolution's tweet was more representative of the general sentiment on Twitter:

@ArabRevolution [14]: Just putting this out there, neither I or millions of other Muslims agree to what Saudi decides to do with #HamzaKashgari #freehamza