Journalist Hamza Kashgari faces the death penalty for Tweets allegedly offensive to Islam.
On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.
From the textual perspective, it might look like a common birthday greeting, amongst the 200 million tweets sent everyday across the globe. But if it is put in context, especially related to one of the religious prophets, it is expected to receive a frenzy of responses, and might even mean the death penalty. The quote above was one of the serial and controversial tweets written by Hamza Kashgari,a 23 year old columnist for Jeddah-based daily newspaper Al-Bilad, as part of an imaginary conversation with the prophet Muhammad. This was on the occasion of the Muslim prophet’s birthday two weeks ago.
Said series of tweets has resulted in Kashgari’s deportation from Malaysia and repatriation to his home country Saudi Arabia, where he was charged of insulting the prophet. Kashgari could face execution.
His other tweet was such:
On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.
In another subsequent tweet, he added:
I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.
The tweets generated thousands of firestorm responses — around 30,000 tweets in 24 hours — that exploded on the Saudi Twitter-sphere. The author has deleted the tweets six hours after posting them, and issued an apology, but vigilantes began trying to hunt him down in real life and a series of increasingly powerful religious leaders called for him to be tried for blasphemy. “It’s known that cursing Allah and Mohammed is apostasy,” said Sheikh Prof. Dr. Nasser Al Omar, one of several influential Saudi clerics who demanded King Abdullah to prosecute Kashgari for those “shameful” tweets on Twitter.
The Saudi Arabian media also reported that the king had issued an arrest warrant for Kashgari. The threats spurred him to flee to Malaysia, where apostasy is not a capital crime. As told by one of his friends to The Daily Beast, Kashgari planned to fly from Malaysia to New Zealand and seek for asylum, but he was detained upon arrival in Kuala Lumpur International Airport on February 9th. The young writer was picked up by Saudi officials and flown back on a private jet on February 12th, a police spokesman told Reuters.
Malaysia has a close kinship with Middle Eastern nations through their shared religion, yet they are also a U.S. ally and widely known as a moderate Islam country. Authorities have been criticized by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on its decision on the extradition. Amnesty called Kashgari a “a prisoner of conscience” and requested for his release while Human Rights Watch told the government to “allow him to look for asylum.” It was something that Malaysia’s government refused to give, however, which make several parties perceived it as “breach of international law.”
The arrest itself was part of international operation involving police agencies as requested by Saudi Arabia’s government. “The ministry will never let Malaysia to be perceived as a haven for terrorists, criminals and wanted person, who want to seek hiding or as a transit for them,” Minister of Home Affairs Hishammuddin Hussein told the New Strait Times. “We received a request from Saudi Arabia and we will not protect anyone who is wanted,” he explained.
As of this writing — 1:00 AM February 19th (GMT+7) — there are already 8,433 people who have signed a petition to End Death Calls for Saudi Poet and Blogger targeting Saudi Arabian authorities and sponsored by “concerned global citizens.” This is still below the figure of 26,665 members who joined an open group in Facebook named The Saudi people want punishment for Hamza Kashgari. The page itself has quickly grown to 20,000 members since the controversial tweets appeared at the first time.
Kashgari is a graduate of the University of King Abdulaziz with a major in Islamic studies. He has just left the Al Bilad newspaper five weeks before the incident, because of disagreements over money and his writing. In an interview with Daily Beast, he says he views his actions as being part of a process toward freedom. “I was demanding my right to practice the most basic human rights — freedom of expression and thought – so nothing was done in vain,” Kashgari says. “I believe I’m just a scapegoat for a larger conflict. There are a lot of people like me in Saudi Arabia who are fighting for their rights.”
Offences Against Islam?
Saudi Information minister Abdul Aziz Khowja has directed all local newspapers and magazines not to carry any article by Kashgari for what he described as persistent offences against Islam.”I have instructed all newspapers and magazines in the kingdom not to allow him to write anything and we will take legal measures against him,” said the minister.
Kashgari’s lawyer, Abdulrahman Allahem, told AFP on February 14th that his client has not been interrogated yet and he hopes the issue will end before it reaches the attorney general. Kashgari’s apology by tweeting “I have made a mistake, and I hope Allah and all those whom I have offended will forgive me,” and his clarification that his tweets were “out of love for the prophet and not meant to insult him or Allah” seems not enough, though. It’s interesting to wait for King Abdullah’s direction or even comment from his nephew Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal, who has big influence inside the Royal Family and just invested USD 300 million in Twitter. For me, it’s still 50:50 between death sentence and forgiveness after found guilty due to insulting, considering his age, track record, apology and intention.
How about you, readers, is death sentence a fair judgement or is it too harsh?