A 23-year-old Saudi Twitter user, Hamza Kashgari, fled the country Sunday to avoid being arrested for his religious tweets, only to find himself in the hands of the Malaysian police today. He had been heading to New Zealand to request political asylum.
On Saturday, the anniversary of the prophet Muhammad's birthday, Kashgari tweeted three times, expressing his religious beliefs about the founder of Islam. Within hours, he was inundated with violent threats. Despite a full renunciation, a warrant was issued by kingdom authorities for his arrest and the Kingdom's religious Fatwa Council condemned him as an apostate and an infidel, crimes which are punishable by death.
According to one of Kashgari's friends, who wishes to remain anonymous, these are the three tweets that were the basis for the Saudi arrest warrant.
- 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.
- On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.
- 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.
Kashgari's Twitter account, @Hmzmz, has been shut down.
Kashgari's friend points out that these actions have come after a number of reversals for religious conservatives in the Wahhabi-influenced state. These include a law allowing women to work as salespeople in public lingerie stores, and the replacement of the head of the religious police with a moderate, who ordered restrictions on how the religious police operate. It also happened within the context of the unrest of the Arab Spring.
Hashtags of shame
Kashgari's harassment is not out of the blue, nor, apparently, based on these tweets alone. He has been the target of religious Twitter users for months. "Public shaming through hashtags is now a common Saudi pressure tactic, especially against public officials and government scandals," said his friend.
A hardcore Saudi cleric used YouTube to post his condemnation of the young man. The cleric, Nasser al-Omar, known as the "weeping cleric" for his tendency to burst into tears at the blasphemy done to the prophet, called for Kashgari to be hauled before a sharia court, according to long-time Saudi blogger, Ahmad al-Omran (Saudi Jeans).
"These people [like Kashgari] should be put to trial in sharia courts. It is known that cursing God and his prophet is apostasy. And the fact that he has repented with cold words will not probably save him in the court." (Al-Omram's translation.)
The punishment for apostasy is death.
Saudi Arabia's information minister has commanded that no one publish any of Kashgari's writings. Prior to this incident, he was a columnist with al-Bilad, a newspaper based in the eastern city of Jeddah.
"I have instructed all newspapers and magazines in the kingdom not to allow him to write any thing and we will take legal measures against him."
Kashgari was trying to make a connecting flight to New Zealand when he was apprehended and arrested yesterday in Malaysia at the Kuala Lumpur airport. It has been reported that Malaysia, an officially Islamic state, will forcibly repatriate Kashgar to Saudi Arabia. Malaysia has no formal extradition agreement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.