For Immediate Release: October 29, 2013
New York City – Human Rights First welcomes the release of Hamza Kashgari, a Saudi journalist who was accused of blasphemy and jailed for 20 months after posting a series of Tweets. The organization notes that this case is yet another example of how individuals are increasingly accused of blasphemy when exercising free expression over the Internet.
“Hamza Kashgari should never have been prosecuted. His arrest demonstrates how allegations of blasphemy can restrict basic human rights, such as the right to express one’s thoughts or beliefs,” said Human Rights First’s Joelle Fiss. “This case is a clear example of how blasphemy laws can spiral out of control: they empower extremists, aggravate societal tensions and lead to incitement to violence which spreads on the Internet at the speed of lightening. We urge the U.S. government to actively engage with its Saudi counterparts to raise the question of human rights violations caused by blasphemy laws.”
On February 12, 2012, the 23-year-old Kashgari was accused of blasphemy after he wrote to the Prophet Muhammad: “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.” After an outcry on social media, Kashgari deleted the Tweets and issued an apology. Fearing for his safety, he fled to Malaysia in the hopes of traveling to New Zealand. On orders of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, and with the complicity of the Malaysian authorities, Kashgari was arrested and returned home. The public prosecutor in Jeddah reportedly said that he planned to bring charges against Saudis who “supported or encouraged Kashgari’s stance” on Twitter.
“There is a trend of victims accused of blasphemy through the publication of blogs, or the use of Twitter or Facebook,” said Fiss. “Those who claim to be offended by blasphemous speech tend to unleash anger and incite to violence, sometimes anonymously. In some cases, this anger online can cause bloodshed in the real world. Being offended never justifies incitement to violence.”
Blasphemy laws are frequently used to stifle debate and dissent, harass political rivals, or persecute religious minorities. Increasingly, these laws also trigger instability and violence. It has become commonplace for mobs to gather in and around courtrooms where blasphemy cases are tried, and vigilantes stand prepared to take the law into their own hands if the court does not hand down a guilty verdict.
For more information or to speak with Fiss, contact Brenda Bowser Soder at BowserSoderB@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3323.