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Asia-Pacific
Malaysia arrests Saudi blogger over tweets
Hamza Kashgari detained after apparently fleeing kingdom after being accused of insulting Prophet Muhammad on Twitter.
Last Modified: 11 Feb 2012 04:30
Online reaction included a Facebook group called "Saudi People Demand the Execution of Hamza Kashgari" [Facebook]

A Saudi blogger who caused outrage in the Gulf kingdom with comments on Twitter deemed insulting to the Prophet Muhammad, has been arrested by Malaysian police after fleeing Saudi Arabia following calls for his execution.

Hamza Kashgari was headed to New Zealand where he hoped to gain political asylum when he was arrested upon arrival at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Thursday morning.

A police spokesman confirmed to the Reuters news agency that Malaysian police had detained the 23-year-old columnist.

"This arrest was part of an Interpol operation which the Malaysian police were a part of," said the spokesman.

A spokesman for the Interpol General Secretariat however, says the police agency never made a request for Malaysia to arrest Kashgari.

“The Interpol National Central Bureau in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia has confirmed that they have not taken any action through Interpol channels in relation to this case and no request was made via Interpol.”

State news agency Bernama said Kashgari was arrested in the Muslim-majority nation "for allegedly insulting Islam and the Prophet Mohammed."

Malaysian Home Minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, said in a statement that Malaysian police are in contact with Saudi authorities to determine the next step in the arrest.

No further details were provided on whether the writer from the western city of Jeddah would be extradited to Saudi Arabia.

An official with the Malaysian home ministry who asked to remain unidentified told the AFP news agency that though Malaysia and Saudi Arabia had no formal extradition treaties, Kashgari could be extradited under other bilateral security
agreements.

Clerics and locals in the kingdom have called for Kashgari's death for three comments he made on the micro-blogging service on the occasion of the Prophet Muhammad's birthday.

"On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more," read one tweet posted on Saturday.

All three tweets were later deleted by Kashgari, who received over 30,000 responses within a day of the postings.

'Scapegoat'

The online reaction to Kashgari's posts included tweets with the hashtag #HamzaKashgari, youtube videos - including one revealing his home address - and a Facebook group with 12,000 members, called "The Saudi People Demand the Execution of Hamza Kashgari."

Iyad el-Baghdadi, an author and blogger based in Dubai, says Kashgari's tweets and the uproar they generated have "become a 'fighting opportunity' between the ultraconservative camp in Saudi Arabia and the liberal camp".

Kashgari, who had originally apologised for his comments, said in an interview he was being made a "scapegoat for a larger conflict" over his comments.

In an interview with the Daily Beast, a US website, Kashgari said: "I was demanding my right to practice the most basic human rights - freedom of expression and thought - so nothing was done in vain."

Baghdadi says the attention the Kashgari and his tweets have generated can be seen as proof "Twitter has come of age in Saudi Arabia. It's the free forum of debate and discussion and even scandal. It can get someone famous and can get someone in trouble."

Kashgari has since deleted his Twitter account.

Blasphemy is a crime punishable by execution under Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law. It is not a capital crime in Malaysia.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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