Saudi should free blogger, says rights group

Human Rights Watch says all charges against Hamza Kashgari should be dropped
Saudi should free blogger, says rights group
Saudi authorities should free blogger Hamza Kashgari and drop any charges against him based on comments he made on Twitter
By Andy Sambidge
Sun 19 Feb 2012 06:11 PM

Saudi authorities should free blogger Hamza Kashgari and drop any charges against him based on comments he made on Twitter expressing his personal religious views, Human Rights Watch has said.

Malaysian authorities on Sunday deported Kashgari back to Saudi Arabia to face charges of apostasy there, hours before lawyers obtained a Malaysian High Court injunction against his deportation.

Saudi Arabia’s highest official clerics have declared Kashgari guilty of apostasy based on his now-deleted tweets and called for him to be put to death.

“Malaysia had no business deporting Kashgari, and Saudi has no business prosecuting him for his tweets expressing his religious opinion, which it is his right to do freely,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

“It is near certain he will not get a fair trial in Saudi Arabia, where religious scholars have concluded that he is guilty of apostasy and should be put to death.”

Kashgari fled Saudi Arabia on February 6 to Malaysia, following popular outrage and calls for his punishment after he published a number of tweets expressing his religious views, which he has since deleted.

The 23-year-old journalist, who wrote for Al-Bilad daily newspaper, has expressed regret for the tweets, saying he had no idea they would elicit such a strong negative reaction.

Kashgari was preparing to seek political asylum in New Zealand in light of the likely death sentence he faces in Saudi Arabia for expressing his religious views, HRW said in a statement posted on its website.

“Malaysian officials held Kashgari incommunicado for days, refused requests from the UN refugee agency, and hid the deportation from his lawyers – hardly the actions of a rights-respecting government,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

In a media interview uploaded to YouTube on February 10, a member of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, Dr Salih bin Fawzan al-Fawzan, said in response to a question on Kashgari’s case that, “Whoever insults God or his messenger is to be killed without being asked for repentance for this is his sentence that must be carried out on him.”

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