News / Asia

Saudi Blogger Faces Trial for Apostasy

Hamza Kashgari faces trial in Saudi Arabia for apostacy
Hamza Kashgari faces trial in Saudi Arabia for apostacy

Saudi newspaper Arab News says a Saudi blogger accused of apostasy has been detained on arrival in Riyadh after being deported from Malaysia, where he fled last week.

Hamza Kashgari caused an outcry among devout Saudis earlier this month, when he used his Twitter account to post thoughts about the Prophet Muhammad they deemed insulting to Islam.

The comments by the 23-year-old columnist for Jeddah-based newspaper al-Bilad triggered tens of thousands of Twitter responses, many from enraged Saudis calling for his death.

Kashgari quickly apologized and deleted his Twitter account, but fled the country last Tuesday as the outrage grew.

A day later, a committee of senior Saudi clerics appointed by the king declared Kashgari to be an apostate - a crime punishable by death - and called for him to be put on trial.

Human Rights Groups Express Concern

Christoph Wilcke, a senior researcher with New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch, told VOA that Kashgari is "very unlikely" to get a fair trial in which the offending remarks can be explained.

Wilcke said the senior Saudi clerics who called for Kashgari to face trial also have predetermined its outcome by declaring him an apostate. He said one cleric even called for the blogger to be executed.

The clerics of the Saudi kingdom's Permanent Committee for Research and Religious Verdicts are responsible for making authoritative interpretations of Islamic law. Their verdicts almost are equivalent to "an act of the U.S. Congress and a ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court at the same time," said Wilcke.

But, Wilcke said there is a chance that Kashgari could appeal to Saudi King Abdullah for leniency and avoid execution.  He noted the case of Hadi al Mutif, a member of the minority Ismaili sect whom the government pardoned last week after arresting him for apostasy in 1993 and later sentencing him to death.

Malaysia also is facing criticism from rights activists for its decision to quickly extradite Kashgari to Saudi Arabia. Malaysian police detained the blogger after he arrived at Kuala Lumpur's international airport Wednesday en route to another country. Sunday, police handed him to Saudi officials who escorted him on a flight to Riyadh.

Malaysia Says It's a Saudi Affair

Malaysia does not have an extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia, but said it has a "long-standing arrangement" to extradite individuals wanted in other countries.  Kuala Lumpur said the charges against Kashgari were a matter for Saudi authorities.

Ali Alyami, director of the Washington-based Center for Democracy & Human Rights in Saudi Arabia, told VOA that he believes Malaysia extradited Kashgari for other reasons. "The Saudi regime and religious establishment have influence in Malaysia because of the financial support they give to Kuala Lumpur," he said. Saudi and Malaysian business people also have strong ties.

Wilcke said the Malaysian government did not act in good faith because lawyers had obtained a court order to prevent Kashgari's deportation and were prevented from seeing their client while he was detained.

"It remains unclear what legal basis was used to keep Kashgari in detention since he entered Malaysia legally, for all we know, and committed no crime there," said Wilcke.

In his tweets, Kashgari imagined a conversation with Prophet Muhammad in which he said they are equal. He said he admires some of the prophet's characteristics, but dislikes others.

Alyami said questioning Islam is taboo in Saudi Arabia because religion is a "tool in the hands of rulers who want to control people financially and economically and to discriminate against minorities."  He also said many Saudis are "religiously brainwashed" and feel they have to call for Kashgari's execution in order to be perceived as "good Muslims."

Saudi Arabia prohibits the public practice of any religion other than Islam. In a 2011 report, the U.S. State Department said some Muslims who did not adhere to Riyadh's interpretation of Islam faced "significant political, economic, legal, social, and religious discrimination."

The Saudi embassy in Washington did not respond to VOA's request for comment on Kashgari's case. But, its website says the Saudi government has embarked upon a "comprehensive reform agenda to promote a vibrant economy, a civil society, and broader political participation by Saudi citizens."

Alyami said Kashgari is not unique among Saudis in speaking out about controversial topics.  Millions of young Saudi men and women are "very frustrated with the lack of political freedom, sexual freedom and jobs," he said. "They also feel isolated from the rest of the world and... disconnected from religious traditions of the past."

"Now, for the first time, young Saudis are connecting with each other through social media to discuss these issues." Saudi rulers' "failure" to recognize this trend is the real danger, said Alyami.


Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Video Iran Nuclear Deal Becomes US Campaign Issue

Voters in three crucial battleground states - Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania - overwhelmingly oppose nuclear deal with Iran More

With IS in Coalition Cross-Hairs, al-Qaida's Syria Affiliate Reemerges

Jabhat al-Nusra has rebounded, increasingly casting itself as a critical player in battle for Syria’s future More

Lessons Learned From Katrina, 10 Years Later

FEMA chief Craig Fugate says key changes include better preparation, improved coordination among state, federal assistance agencies More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs