Malaysia arrests Saudi journalist for "insulting Prophet"

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Friday, February 10, 2012

Malaysian police on Friday arrested a Saudi Arabian journalist who fled his country after being accused of insulting Prophet Mohammad on the social networking site Twitter.

Jeddah-based newspaper columnist Hamza Kashgari triggered an uproar in the kingdom after tweeting remarks about the Prophet deemed to be offensive, prompting a surge of online outrage and calls for his execution.

“It is confirmed that Malaysian police have detained the Saudi writer. This arrest was part of an Interpol operation which the Malaysian police were a part of,” a police spokesman said on Friday.

It is not clear whether the 23-year-old would be extradited to Saudi Arabia, where some Islamic clerics have called for him to be put to death for his comments.

A statement released by Malaysian Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Kashgari was detained in the airport's departure hall but gave no further details.

“The police are now in contact with the Saudi Arabian authorities in order to determine the next steps,” the statement said.

Malaysia is a majority Muslim country which has a close affinity with many Middle Eastern nations through their shared religion. Malaysia and Saudi Arabia have close ties but do not have a formal extradition treaty.

However, a Malaysian home ministry official who asked to remain anonymous said Kashgari could be extradited under other bilateral security agreements.

Blasphemy is considered a crime punishable by execution in the oil-rich kingdom, but it is not a capital crime in Malaysia.

Kashgari posted the comments on his Twitter feed to mark the Prophet Mohammad's birthday on Saturday.

He tweeted: “I will not bless you” and “I will not bow to you. I won't kiss your hands. I will shake hands with you as an equal, and smile at you like you smile at me, and talk to you only as a friend, nothing more.”

His comments drew some 300,000 responses, according to an online service that tracks Twitter postings in the Arab world.

In an interview with The Daily Beast website, Kashgari said he was being made a “scapegoat for a larger conflict” over his comments.

“I view my actions as part of a process toward freedom,” he was quoted as saying in the interview.

“I was demanding my right to practice the most basic human rights - freedom of expression and thought - so nothing was done in vain,” he said.

Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, a spokeswoman for Malaysian activist group Lawyers for Liberty, criticized the arrest of Kashgari, saying: “This is again a violation of freedom of expression. He has every right of making comments and so on without being persecuted.”

“Malaysia should give asylum to him. But instead they are conspiring with the Saudi government. It's abhorrent,” she added.

Kashgari has apologized over the affair but that failed to dampen calls for his execution.

A committee of top clerics lambasted him an “infidel” and demanded he be tried in an Islamic court, while a Facebook page entitled "The Saudi people demand Hamza Kashgari's execution" has attracted thousands of followers.

Below are the controversial tweets posted by Hamza Kashgari (@hmzmz) along with their English translations:

On your birthday, I will say that I loved the rebel in you, which always inspired me. But I didn’t like the aura of holiness, I will not bless you.

On your birthday, I see you in my face everywhere I turn. I will say that I loved some things in you, hated some things, and I did not understand many other things.

On your birthday, I will not bow to you. I won’t kiss your hands. I will shake hands with you as an equal, and smile at you like you smile at me, and talk to you only as a friend, nothing more.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP, Reuters)

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