Saudi writer may face trial over Muhammad tweets

Hamza Kashgari's comments seen as blasphemy in homeland; deported by Malaysia 4 days after fleeing death threats.

By REUTERS
February 13, 2012 17:39
1 minute read.
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JEDDAH/DUBAI - A young Saudi blogger and columnist has been deported to his homeland to face trial soon after fleeing from death threats triggered by comments on the social network Twitter seen as blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad.

Hamza Kashgari, 23, fled Saudi Arabia four days ago but was arrested by police in Malaysia en route to New Zealand. Malaysia, which has a majority Muslim population and enjoys close ties with Arab states, sent back Kashgari on Sunday.

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A former columnist for the Al Bilad newspaper, Kashgari had sent a series of Twitter posts, or tweets, one week ago of an imaginary conversation with the Prophet Muhammad.

In Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter and home to Islam's two holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, such comments could be considered blasphemy and punishable by death under the kingdom's strict interpretation of Islam.

Kashgari has apologized at length for his posts, however, and a Saudi lawyer said while he faced harsh punishment, it was unlikely to be the death penalty.

Interior and foreign ministry spokesmen declined to comment on Kashgari's status, although Saudi Information Minister Abdul-Aziz Khoja responded to the incident via Twitter.

"When I read what he posted, I wept and got very angry that someone in the country of the Two Holy Mosques, attacks our Prophet in a manner that does not fit a Muslim...," Khoja said.

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"I have given instructions to ban him from writing for any Saudi newspaper or magazine, and there will be legal measures to guarantee that," he said.

Writing on the Prophet Muhammad's birthday, Kashgari sent three tweets of a fictional conversation with the Prophet.

Addressing the Prophet, Kashgari said he "loved the rebel in you" and that he "loved some aspects of you, hated others".

The reaction on the Internet was swift and vitriolic.

First, there was a flurry of angry comments on Twitter - estimated at more than 30,000 in 24 hours. A Facebook page, "Saudi people want punishment for Hamza Kashgari," has quickly grown to more than 20,000 members.

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