13 February 2012
PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee fears for the safety of writer Hamza Kashgari, who has been extradited to Saudi Arabia to face blasphemy charges. The writer fled to Malaysia on 7 February 2012 after he received death threats following statements he had posted on Twitter deemed to be insulting towards the Prophet Mohammed. Prominent clerics accused him of apostasy, which carries the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. PEN demands his immediate and unconditional release, in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also calls upon the Saudi authorities to provide him with immediate and effective protection.
According to PEN’s information, Kashgari, a 23-year-old writer from Jeddah, tweeted a series of messages addressed to the Prophet Mohammed on the anniversary of the Prophet’s birth on 4 February 2012, some of which conveyed questions about his faith. Twitter registered more than 30,000 responses to his tweets, many of which accused him of blasphemy and called for his death. On 5 February 2012 Nasser al-Omar, an influential cleric, called for Kashgari to be tried in a Sharia court for apostasy, which is punishable by death, and the Saudi King Abdullah called for his arrest, vowing to seek extradition if Kashgari left the country. On 6 February Kashgari issued an apology and deleted his feed, but to no avail. Someone posted his home address in a YouTube video, and people searched for him at his local mosque. On 7 February 2012, Kashgari fled to Malaysia. He was arrested two days later in Kuala Lumpur on 9 February as he was trying to continue his journey to New Zealand, where he planned to request asylum. He was deported to Saudi Arabia on 12 February 2012.
Kashgari is a poet and former columnist with the daily newspaper Al Bilad, and he is known for his reformist views. On 7 February 2012 Al-Bilad issued statement saying that they had fired Kashgari five weeks earlier “because of the inadequacy of his general views for the approach of the newspaper.”
Amnesty International gives the following background:
‘In Saudi Arabia, the death penalty is applied for a wide range of offences including for apostasy and sorcery. The criminalisation of apostasy is incompatible with the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as set out in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…
Amnesty International has documented cases in Saudi Arabia where people whose comments were deemed contrary to Islam have at times been considered to be tantamount to being an apostate and as such sentenced to death. Court proceedings in Saudi Arabia fall far short of international standards for fair trial. Defendants are rarely allowed formal representation by a lawyer, and in many cases are not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them. They may be convicted solely on the basis of confessions obtained under duress or deception.’For more background about Hamza Kashgari and the case against him see Index on Censorship
Please send appeals:
Expressing grave concerns for the safety of writer Hamza Kashgari, and urging that he is immediately and unconditionally released, in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights;
Calling upon the Saudi authorities to provide him with immediate and effective protection.
His Majesty King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques
Office of His Majesty the King
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: (via Ministry of the Interior) +966 1 403 3125
Salutation: Your Majesty
Crown Prince and Minister of the Interior
His Royal Highness Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Ministry of the Interior
P.O.Box 2933, Airport Road,
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Fax: +966 1 403 3125
Salutation: Your Majesty Crown Prince and Minister of the Interior
Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Saudi Arabia in your country if possible.
**Please contact this office if sending appeals after 29 February 2012**
For further information please contact Cathy McCann at International PEN Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: firstname.lastname@example.org