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Detention of Saudi Writer for Twitter Posts Raises Concerns

Washington - February 10, 2012 - Freedom House is deeply concerned about the detention by Malaysian authorities of Saudi writer Hamza Kashgari, who fled Saudi Arabia to escape death threats for allegedly insulting the prophet Mohammad on Twitter. The 23-year-old Kashgari is at imminent risk of extradition to Saudi Arabia, where he faces charges of blasphemy that can carry the death penalty.

On Saturday, February 4, Kashgari posted a series of introspective tweets about the Prophet Mohammad on the prophet’s birthday, prompting personal attacks on social media from Saudi citizens and religious figures, and calls for his execution. Although Kashgari removed the posts and apologized for any offense, the Saudi government issued an official call for his detention, prompting him to flee the country. He was detained February 9 in the Kuala Lumpur airport after Saudi officials tracked his travel plans. He has been denied access to legal counsel during his detention in Malaysia, which also has anti-blasphemy laws that carry severe penalties.

“This case is yet another example of the dangers blasphemy laws pose. It is particularly disturbing to see Saudi Arabia attempting to extend its censorship outside its borders,” said Courtney Radsch, program manager for the Global Freedom of Expression Campaign at Freedom House. “Freedom House urges the Malaysian government to reject Saudi calls for his extradition and release Kashgari immediately.”

There is no formal extradition agreement between Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, and negotiations to determine Kashgari’s fate are ongoing. The Saudi government has put out a warrant for Kashgari’s arrest, which reports say came directly from the King, and its Fatwa Council has issued a fatwa, or religious edict, calling him an apostate and calling for his prosecution. His Twitter feed has been deleted, although it is not clear by whom.

The musings of Kashgari are not the first time social media postings have led to accusations of blasphemy or apostasy. Earlier this week, Indonesian police charged a civil servant with blasphemy for insulting Islam and writing “God doesn’t exist” on Facebook and in December 2011 Saudi Arabia beheaded a woman convicted of witchcraft. In 2010, Pakistan shut down YouTube and Facebook and called for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to be tried for blasphemy because of an online contest encouraging users to draw cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Saudi Arabia is ranked Not Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011 and Not Free in Freedom on the Net 2011, Freedom House’s global assessment of internet and digital media freedom. Malaysia is ranked Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2011, Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2011, and Partly Free in Freedom on the Net 2011. Both countries were profiled in a report examining the pernicious impact of blasphemy laws on a range of human rights.

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