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

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment 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.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid