A Saudi blogger’s “blasphemous” tweets

As of August 2012, Saudi Arabian writer Hamza Kashgari faced a trial for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad on Twitter, writes Brian Pellot.

The case

On February 4, 2012 Saudi Arabian writer Hamza Kashgari was accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in three short tweets. One message read, “On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.” Others said, “I shall not pray to you. I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand.” Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah ordered Kashgari’s arrest, and an army of offended Twitter and Facebook users called for his death. Kashgari quickly deleted the posts, issued an apology, and fled the country. During a stopover in Malaysia, another predominantly Muslim country, authorities detained and later deported Kashgari back to Saudi Arabia. Human Rights groups and local lawyers expect him to be charged with blasphemy, which carries the death penalty. Kashgari’s trial awaits.

Author opinion

Amnesty International has already chastised Malaysia for deporting the writer and urged Saudi officials to release Kashgari and drop all Twitter-related charges. The human rights elements of this case are obvious, and it should come as no surprise that I echo the group’s demands. Perhaps a more interesting free speech question is whether Kashgari should be afforded leniency for publicly apologising and promptly deleting his tweets. Should ex post facto self-censorship be considered grounds for amnesty? Are the demands of this principle - to respect the believer without necessarily respecting the content of the belief  - exceeded by the deletion or retraction of comments deemed harmful to a particular interest group? Take for example the related Muhammad cartoons case. Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten defended its right to publish drawings of the Prophet Muhammad but apologised for any offence the cartoons might have caused. Should angered opposition groups be compelled to drop their grievances when apologies are issued or statements retracted? Of course whether Kashgari or Jyllands-Posten should have apologised in the first place is a different free speech question entirely, but for the focus of this case, should an apology ever be grounds for amnesty?

- Brian Pellot

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Comments (0)

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  1. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    I believe that an apology can be the grounds for amnesty. But that opinion comes from a mind set that humans are likely to make mistakes and wrong decisions that might lead to offending the others. I am not sure it is applicable for the case of a murder by a mentally stable person, since it involves the loss of a life, which I believe is the most precious value we have. However words can hurt as well, but if some one realises the harmful consequences of his/her doings and regrets doing it, then gives a public apology it is a solid ground for forgiving the person. The public was outraged with his/her opinion , but if this opinion changes there is no reason left to be dissatisfied.

  2. Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    The whole point is that it doesn’t matter what he actually wrote or what he meant by it, or what he does after the big red “offence” button has been pushed. The button is meant to scare us – and it works. It’s pointless even discussing whether Hamza Kashgari did anything “wrong” – that’s irrelevant to the working of the button. It can be pushed at any time, any where. Anyone can find themselves in the blast zone. The idea is to make people afraid, to watch what they say, and to self-censor. It happened to be Hamza Kashgari in Saudi Arabia yesterday, just as it was David Jones in Gatwick airport today. As Malamud said “A thick, black web had fallen on him because he was standing under it”. Well now we’re all standing under it.

    • Your comment is awaiting moderation.

      Yes, that is well said, iassersohn. Thank you.

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