Earlier this month, EFF called for the protection of Saudi blogger and journalist Hamza Kashgari, who had fled Saudi Arabia after tweets he wrote about the Prophet Mohammed provoked clerics to demand that he be tried for apostasy, and members of the public to call for his murder. Kashgari had been a columnist for the Jeddah-based newspaper Al Bilad until outrage over the tweets, when Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Abdul Aziz Khoja ordered Kashgari “not to write in any Saudi paper or magazine,” an order which Kashgari also posted to his Twitter account. As outrage mounted, Kashgari retracted his statements, deleted his Twitter account, apologized for the comments, and finally fled the country in response to mounting threats on his life.
Upon arriving at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on his way to seek refuge in New Zealand, Kashgari was arrested by security officials at the request of the Saudi government. Malaysia and Saudi Arabia do not have an extradition treaty, but they do maintain good relations. EFF was among the many organizations that called on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak release Kashgari from detention and stop extradition proceedings, reminding the Prime Minister that Malaysia that as member of the UN Human Rights Council, his nation is committed to upholding the highest human rights standards, which is inconsistent with allowing Kashgari to be extradited back to a country where he faces serious threats to his life.
Mohammed Noor, Kashgari’s lawyer in Malaysia, was able to obtain a court order to prevent the deportation, but he was not allowed to see his client before he was put on a plane and repatriated to Saudi Arabia. Noor told the Associated Press:
“We are concerned that he would not face a fair trail back home and that he could face the death penalty if he is charged with apostasy.”
Kashgari is now in detention in Saudi Arabia. Several sites and petitions have been set up to support him and call for his release. Kashgari is being represented by prominent human rights lawyer Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem, who has stated that he will push for this case to be argued before a committee in the information ministry instead of a Sharia court. Even if Kashgari is not charged with apostasy, a crime with carries the death penalty, the blogger and journalist continues to face threats to his life from Saudi militants. A Facebook page titled “The Saudi people want the execution of Hamza Kashgari,” has over 26,000 members. It is not enough for the Saudi government to release Kashgari—they must allow him to leave the country for his own safety.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation will continue to keep a close eye on developments in Saudi Arabia. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. No one deserves to be killed, whether by his or her government or by fellow citizens, for something they write in a 140-character tweet.