Three tweets about the Prophet Mohammed, followed by a barrage of social media reaction and death threats sent a Saudi blogger into exile, only to be detained in Malaysia and left facing possible extradition and an Islamic court.
Hamza Kashgari is a 23-year-old blogger and newspaper columnist who used the occasion of Prophet Mohammed’s birthday last weekend to send out three tweets, which he has since deleted and apologized for.
He tweeted: “I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don’t understand about you.”
“I will not pray for you,” he added, as reported by AFP.
Mr. Kashgari’s tweets have led to calls by Saudi clerics that he be tried in an Islamic court for apostasy and face execution.
The Daily Beast was able to speak to the blogger earlier in the week and he told the website that it was impossible for him to ever return to Saudi Arabia.
“No way,” he said. “I’m afraid, and I don’t know where to go.”
There were reports that the Mr. Kashgari was hoping to reach New Zealand and apply for political asylum when he was detained in Malaysia on Thursday.
Before his arrest, the Saudi blogger also spoke to David Keyes, executive director of Advancing Human Rights and co-founder of CyberDissident.org, who reached Mr. Kashgari at his hiding place in Saudi Arabia by phone.
“I was with sitting with my friends and one of them checked Twitter on his mobile phone,” he told Mr. Keyes. “Suddenly there were thousands of tweets of people calling to kill me because they said I’m against religion.
“I never expected this. It was a huge surprise. My friends are writers and bloggers and now their lives are in danger too.
“They fear what will happen to them. The government is trying to scare them and show that what is happening to me can happen to them sooner or later,” Mr. Kashgari said.
Another prominent Saudi blogger, Ahmed Al Omrane, wrote about the controversy on his blog Saudi Jeans and shared his shock at how the story had unfolded.
“How a couple of tweets by an obscure writer reached the King and resulted in an arrest order and a possible death sentence in the matter of three days is nothing short of astonishing.
“Saudi Arabia being a conservative Muslim country, the outrage over Kashgari’s tweets was expected. Remember the Danish cartoons? Nevertheless, this case escalated rapidly,” he wrote this week.
There is a feeling among Saudi liberals that the reaction was orchestrated and that Saudi conservatives were waiting for just such an incident to “take advantage of the incident to score points and make political gains,” as Mr. Omrane argues. “It was a low hanging fruit.”
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah unveiled a series of reforms last year, including giving Saudi women the right to vote and run in local elections – a move that made conservatives bristle.
Malaysian authorities detained the Saudi blogger Mr. Kashgari on Thursday.