Malaysia deports Saudi journalist for tweeting; faces execution

Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari has been deported from Malaysia. He faces potential execution in Saudia Arabia on charges of apostasy after writing a set of controversial tweets.
Written by Hana Stewart-Smith, Contributor

Despite pleas from Amnesty International and other human rights groups, Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari was deported from Malaysia yesterday by authorities.

In his home of Saudi Arabia, Kashgari faces potential execution for posting blasphemous messages on Twitter, as dictated by Sharia law.

The Malaysian government have defended their actions. Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein stated he "will not allow Malaysia to be seen as a safe country for terrorists and those who are wanted by their countries of origin."

Kashgari's controversial tweets forced him to flee his country for Malaysia, where apostasy is not a capital crime. He had plans to travel on to New Zealand, however, he was detained upon arrival in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.

He was declared guilty of apostasy by Saudi clerics on February 8th.

Malaysia is a majority Muslim country and is known for campaigning for moderate Islam. As a result their decision to deport and condemn the 23-year-old journalist has caused a great deal of controversy. Kashgari deleted and apologised for his tweets.

When interviewed, Kashgari said he felt he was being turned into, "a scapegoat for a larger conflict". However, he also added that "nothing was done in vain", and that his actions were "part of a process towards freedom."

He might well be right. Hundreds shared his tweets across Twitter, and the debate surrounding his situation has been raging. Many are expressing their fury over what has happened to Kashgari, and rightfully so.

Twitter user Ratnakar Sadasyula said, "Saudi will execute Hamza Kashgari, but it can't suppress the outrage, how many Hamza's more will it keep executing?"

Amnesty International also indicated that, if Malaysia did deport Kashgari, it would make them complicit in any violence that occurs to him as a result. If he is executed, Malaysian authorities were well aware of that possibility.

Twitter recently announced its new country-by-country content control. Whilst the policy has caused some concern over potential censorship, it has also brought forth some compelling arguments in its favour.

As Josh Catone argued, under this new policy, "Twitter can remove that tweet in that country, but allow the world to see it."

Twitter is completely blocked in China, and could face the same fate elsewhere if they failed to comply to requests for content removal.

As it stands, even if they take down the offending tweets the world would still see them. Moreover, under their new promises of transparency, it would be explained exactly why it has been removed.

Although they would be blocking free speech in specific incidents, the message to the world and its consequences would remain available for all to see. This means that when a country has a specific law or ideology activists are speaking out against, they draw the world's attention to it.

For example, the Government of Thailand officially endorsed the new Twitter policy, and has arrested many individuals over its strict lése-majesté laws in the past.

We all have differing opinions on what is and what isn't acceptable, but most would agree that nobody should be executed for words alone.

On one hand nobody is likely to be too upset at Germany choosing to remove pro-Nazi content. On the other, when the ideology is as strictly enforced as sharia law, it becomes more problematic.

The truth is that trying to control freedom of speech, in a time where a single sentence can travel the globe in minutes, is fruitless. That won't stop authorities from trying.

It might seem defeatist to suggest that first step towards complete freedom of speech is making restrictions explicit. If we know who is being silenced, and what for, we can start to question why.

As long as the Internet exists, it is impossible for that content to be destroyed. Equally, the plight of those arrested for posting it.

With that in mind, here is one of the tweets over which Kashgari could face execution. Do you think it is worth a man's life?

"On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more."


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