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Farzana Hassan Headshot

The Death Penalty for Tweets?

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The fate of Hamza Kashgiri is now in the hands of rabid and bloodthirsty Saudi clerics. The young Saudi journalist accused of disrespecting the prophet Mohammad on Twitter was recently deported from Malaysia to his home country so as to stand trial for alleged blasphemy. The offense is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.

Surely this appears like a scene from the desert landscape of seventh-century Arabia. One would have hoped that in the 21st century, dissident voices would come to be acknowledged as legitimate self-expression in all four corners of the world. Alas, such is not the case in countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, where the slightest perceived attack on religion can imperil the lives of freethinking individuals. Shameful!

In arresting Kashgiri, the country has obviously kowtowed to Islamist groups, especially the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). This international Islamist outfit has taken upon itself to quash any legitimate criticism of religious practices.

Although the OIC's UN resolution 16/18 employs a change in terminology from the original "combating defamation of religion" to "combating intolerance," in essence its objectives remain the same -- crushing any criticism of orthodox Islamic belief or practice. UN resolution 16/18 states: "Combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence, and violence against persons based on religion or belief."

But shouldn't this wording work both ways? Why then are the Saudis so intolerant of this young man's religious beliefs? Or is this provision meant to only prevent criticism of Islam?

As for Kashgiri, he was only expressing some very human doubts about his relationship with the prophet of Islam. His post, which was later deleted, had read:"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."

His statements evoked a number of hostile tweets from enraged Saudi citizens. Presumably, the majority of people who tweet in Saudi Arabia are young. It is indeed shocking that so many young people in Saudi Arabia remain so unenlightened as to seek death for their fellow citizen who dares to disagree with the accepted religious narrative? Facebook was no exception. A Facebook page titled "The Saudi People Demand the Execution of Hamza Kashgari" also attracted more than 13,000 members.

But the question remains: How can one construe Kashgiri's musings as deserving of execution even in the archaic world of Muslim blasphemy laws?

The man does not deserve to die for his opinions -- and admittedly, this is not saying much. It amounts to setting the bar extremely low for what should constitute as tolerance.

Tolerance in fact demands that we take up this man's cause and try to save his life from destruction at the hands of totalitarian governments.

Furthermore Malaysia, a supposedly moderate Muslim country, has partnered with Saudi Arabia in castigating this courageous young man. Demonstrations must be organized in front of both the Saudi and Malaysian embassies and consulates to highlight this sinister partnership.