Last week a major brouhaha erupted in response to several tweets of Hamza Kashgari, a 23 year old Saudi journalist; his tweets were deemed insulting to the Prophet Muhammad (PBBUH). Fearing for his safety, Kashgari subsequently fled Saudi Arabia, hoping to claim asylum elsewhere.
|Above: Kashgari, Twitter profile picture (parody account),|
He was unsuccessful. On Sunday, Kashgari was deported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia back to Saudi Arabia, where he could face the death penalty on charges of apostasy or blasphemy, according to the BBC.
Amnesty International, Freedom House and other NGOs expressed major concerns about Kashgari's well-being. Amnesty International presented an unfavorable view of the Saudi legal system: "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."
Saudi Arabia has a unique legal system. The Kingdom lacks uniform, Western style rational law codes, although the King has already initiated a controversial codification project; at present, royal decrees on the one hand coexist with semi-independent religious scholars who interpret the sharīʿa based on their individual discretion. As Saudi Arabia becomes increasingly enmeshed in the global economy, legal reforms have become necessary in areas like international finance. "The Saudi state," writes Nathan Brown, "has been driven to create a series of ad hoc structures to govern areas where it has a more definite set of rules it wants to see implemented."
It is not clear how the case will play out, perhaps he could receive a pardon (or perhaps more realistically a reduced sentence) if there is sufficient international pressure.
The debate continues on social media platforms. While many have called for Kashgari's death, others have championed the right to freedom of expression (see #FreeHamza on Twitter), evoking past controversies. In Morocco, a teenager was arrested for posting unbecoming caricatures of the King on Facebook.
Ironically (and perhaps only tangentially related) Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal has invested approximately $300 million in Twitter, according to Forbes magazine…