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

For Lebanon-based Refugees, Desperation Fuels Perilous Passage

In a war that has caused an estimated three million people to flee Syria, efforts to make perilous sea journey in search of asylum expected to increase More

South African Brewer Tackles Climate Change

Mega-brewer SAB Miller sent delegates to climate summit in Peru, says it is one of many private companies taking their own steps to fight climate change More

Indonesia Reports Increase in Citizens Joining Islamic State

Officials say more than 350 of its citizens are now in Syria or Iraq to fight with Islamic State - 50 more than last month 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.
Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?i
X
Ayesha Tanzeem
December 17, 2014 11:54 AM
The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video Will Pakistan School Shooting Galvanize Pakistan Against Extremism?

The attack on a military school in Pakistan’s northwest city of Peshawar left 141 dead, including 132 children. Strong statements of condemnation poured in from across the world. The country announced three days of mourning, and the leadership, both political and military, promised retribution. VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem looks at how likely the Pakistani government is to clamp down on all extremist groups.
Video

Video ‘Anti-Islamization’ Marches Increase Tensions In Germany

Anti-immigrant rallies in Germany have been building in recent weeks, peaking Monday night in the city of Dresden where tens of thousands of people turned out to demonstrate against what they call the ‘Islamization’ of the West. Germany has offered asylum to more Syrian refugees than any other country, and this appears to have set off the protests. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.
Video

Video Refugees Living in Kenya Long for Peace in the Home Countries

Kenya is host to numerous refugees seeking safe haven from conflict. Immigrants from Somalia face challenges in their new lives in Kenya. Ahead of International Migrants Day (December 18) Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video Turkey's Authoritarianism Dismays Western Allies

The Turkish government has been defiant in the face of criticism at home and abroad for its raids targeting opposition media. The European Union on Monday expressed dismay after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Brussels for criticizing his government's action. Turkey's bid to be considered for EU membership has been on hold while critics accuse the NATO ally of increasingly authoritarian rule. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video US-China Year in Review: Hong Kong to Climate Change

The United States is pushing for a code of conduct to resolve territorial disputes in the South China Sea as it works to improve commercial ties with Beijing. VOA State Department correspondent Scott Stearns reports on a year of U.S. policy toward China from Hong Kong to climate change.
Video

Video Japanese Leader’s Election Win Raises Potential for Conflict with Neighbors

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his allies easily won a two-thirds majority in parliament Sunday, even though the country has slipped into recession under his conservative policies. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Seoul, that the prime minister’s victory will empower him to continue economic reforms but also pursue a nationalist agenda that will likely increase tensions with Japan’s neighbors.
Video

Video Nuba Mountain Families Hide in Caves to Escape Aerial Bombings

Despite ongoing peace talks between Sudan's government and the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North, or SPLM-N, daily aerial attacks continue in South Kordofan province’s Nuba Mountains. Adam Bailes was there and reports for VOA that government forces are targeting civilian areas, rather than military positions, with their daily bombardments.

All About America

AppleAndroid