Lucy Popescu

Turki al-Hamad, Raef Badawi & Hamza Kashgari

The execution of Rizana Nafeek, a domestic worker who was publicly beheaded in Saudi Arabia last month, caused an international outcry. She had been sentenced to death for the murder of a baby in her care when she was just 17 years old.  She had repeatedly denied the charges, claiming that the child died as a result of a choking accident.

Saudi Arabia executed at least 69 people in 2012. According to Amnesty International, the death penalty is given for a wide range of offences, including apostasy, which 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 is further concerned that 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 by deception.

Turki al-Hamad, a political analyst and highly respected author and novelist, was arrested on 24 December 2012 after posting several tweets in which he criticised Islamists. Al-Hamad’s novels are banned and he has been previously denounced by clerics in Saudi Arabia for his writing. He was jailed in his youth for political activism. The tweets apparently caused outrage among the religious establishment and al-Hamad is at risk of being charged with apostasy.

He joins Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old poet who also faces the death sentence for his comments on Twitter. Kashgari, a former columnist for the Saudi daily newspaper Al-Bilad, is known for his reformist views. On 4 February 2012, the anniversary of Mohammad’s birth, he tweeted a series of messages that conveyed doubts about his faith. Index on Censorship reported that the tweets represented an imaginary conversation with the Prophet. Kashgari expressed admiration but also questioned his own faith: ‘On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.’

Twitter registered more than 30,000 responses to Kashgari’s tweets, many of which accused him of blasphemy and called for his death. The next day, King Abdullah called for his arrest and said that he would seek extradition if Kashgari left the country. Nasser al-Omar, an influential cleric, demanded that Kashgari be tried in a sharia court for apostasy. Despite issuing an apology and deleting his feed, Kashgari continued to receive death threats; after his home address was published on YouTube, he was forced to flee to Malaysia on 7 February. He was arrested two days later in Kuala Lumpur and deported to Saudi Arabia on 12 February.

Although a sharia court in Riyadh has accepted Kashgari’s repentance in the presence of his family and he has repeatedly expressed his regret about what he wrote, he remains in prison. In another tweet Kashgari criticised the status of women in the kingdom by saying: ‘No Saudi women will go to hell, because it’s impossible to go there twice.’ Index believes that this, together with his broader critiques of the regime, is the real reason behind his continued detention.

Raef Badawi, co-founder and editor of the Liberal Saudi Network, a website and online forum created to foster political and social debate in Saudi Arabia, has also been charged with apostasy for his online writings. Badawi was arrested on 17 June 2012 in Jeddah after attempting to organise a conference to mark a ‘day of liberalism’ that had been banned by the authorities. Badawi has been in trouble with the authorities before: he was summoned before a court in 2006 for ‘insulting Islam’ after he posted critical comments about Islamists and Salafists on his website.

It wasn’t until 17 December 2012 that Badawi appeared before the district court in Jeddah. He was charged with ‘setting up a website that undermines general security’, ‘ridiculing Islamic religious figures’ and ‘going beyond the realm of obedience’. During the hearing, the judge reportedly prevented Badawi’s lawyer from representing him in court, before transferring the case to the higher Public Court on a charge of apostasy. On 22 December, the General Court in Jeddah decided to proceed with the apostasy charges.

Readers might like to send appeals expressing grave concerns for the safety of writers Turki al-Hamad and Hamza Kashgari, and editor Raef Badawi, who are detained solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression; urging that they are immediately and unconditionally released, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and calling upon the Saudi authorities to provide them with immediate and effective protection from torture and ill-treatment.

Appeals to be addressed to:

 His Majesty King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud
The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques
Office of His Majesty the King
Fax via Ministry of the Interior: +966 1 403 3125

His Royal Highness Prince Mohammad bin Nayef al-Saud
Crown Prince and Minister of the Interior
Ministry of the Interior
Fax: +966 1 403 3125

HRH Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf al-Saud
Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia
30 Charles Street
London W1J 5DZ
Email via the website: www.saudiembassy.org.uk


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