5-3-2013By Christopher Plummer
A. Whitney Ellsworth Fellow
On February 12, 2012, 23-year-old journalist and poet Hamza Kashgari was accused of blasphemy after he posted a string of Twitter messages in which he imagined himself speaking with the Prophet Muhammad. Kashgari wrote, “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.”
Within hours, more than 30,000 people responded to his tweets, many calling for him to be punished. On Facebook alone, 12,000 people called for his execution. Kashgari deleted the tweets and issued an apology, but to no avail.
Fearing for his safety, he fled the country, hoping to find refuge in New Zealand. But he made it only as far as Malaysia. At the airport he was arrested at the request of Saudi authorities and returned to Saudi Arabia for prosecution. Rumors swirled that Kashgari was to be released, but according to a Facebook support group, he remains in prison.
Journalists and bloggers in Saudi Arabia face the ever-present threat of prosecution under blasphemy laws. These laws can create an atmosphere of intolerance in which governments restrict free expression and freedom of the press.
Human Rights First urges the Saudi Arabian government to reform its blasphemy laws so that artists, writers, and journalists can work and live without fear.