Interpol accused after Saudi Arabia arrests journalist over Muhammad tweet

Saudi Arabia is reported to have used Interpol's "red notice" system to locate and arrest journalist Hamza Kashgari, 23, (image at left) over tweets perceived as an insult to the Prophet Muhammad.

The international police organization denies involvement.

On the day observed as the Prophet's birthday, Kashgari published three tweets that described an imaginary meeting with the Prophet.

The one that caused all the hysteria (including "arrest him!" campaigns on Facebook and Twitter):

"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."

[translation via AFP].

Kashgari later apologized, removed the tweets, then fled the country as calls for his arrest grew.

More from the Guardian:

Police in Kuala Lumpur said Hamza Kashgari, 23, was detained at the airport "following a request made to us by Interpol" the international police cooperation agency, on behalf of the Saudi authorities. Interpol later denied that its notice system had been involved in the arrest of Kashgari.

A spokesperson said: "The assertion that Saudi Arabia used Interpol's system in this case is wholly misleading and erroneous."

Kashgari's tweets are said to be blasphemy, and blasphemy is punishable by execution in Saudi Arabia.

More at the WSJ, and NYT. The Daily Beast has been reporting on the story, and they spoke to a friend of Kashgari's who witnessed the detention at Kuala Lumpur airport. The Wikipedia entry for Kashgari includes a pretty thorough and reliable account of the affair (it looks good at the time of this blog post, anyway).

As an aside: Kashgari's Twitter account appears to have been deleted or otherwise closed. But, wonder how Twitter's new country-based censorship system would have played out in this case? I'm not aware that Saudi Arabia asked Twitter to remove the blasphemous content, and the point's probably moot since Twitter does not, at least not to my knowledge, have offices there.

In the strange YouTube video embedded below (which is currently nearing a million views), the Saudi cleric Nasser al-Omar demands between outbursts of tears that Kashgari be put on trial for insults to Allah and the Prophet Mohammad.

(screengrab of Hamza Kashgari's now-deleted-tweets via The Daily Beast)


  1. One report yesterday said that he was trying to get to New Zealand to apply for asylum.  Malaysia is a cesspit of human right violations.

    Interpol also issued an arrest warrant last year for an activist who has asylum in the UK.   Its current President is Singaporean (another human rights nightmare country).  The previous President was tried in South Africa for corruption and defeating the course of justice.  Don’t even get me started about that message at the beginning of DVDs.

    1. I don’t know that I’d compare Malaysia and Singapore.  Except for the heat, humidity, and crowds, I could happily live in Singapore.  I wouldn’t set foot in Malaysia.

      1. What about the caning?

        Singaporean law allows caning to be ordered for over 30 offences, including hostage-taking, robbery, gang robbery with murder, drug use, vandalism, and rioting. Caning is also a mandatory punishment for certain offences such as rape, drug trafficking, illegal money-lending, and for visiting foreigners who overstay their visa by more than 90 days, a measure designed to deter illegal immigrant workers.

        Quite a broad spectrum, though perhaps this is not surprising in a city state where “spitting in public” merits a hefty fine.

        1. For some of those offenses, I’d do a hell of a lot more than caning if it were up to me.  Not quite sure why you mentioned them.  Besides, they’re making progress.  You can now get bubblegum (you might need a prescription, but still).

          Besides all that, my point was not that Singapore was perfect, but that lumping them into the same category as Malaysia was not warranted.

          1.  Not quite sure why you mentioned them.

            Hmm. I guess I was shocked that “vandalism”, “rape”, and “overstaying ones visa” were lumped together, but upon reflection, the US lumps together “software piracy” with “second degree murder” in the sentencing guidelines.

          2. Oh it’s warranted alright. Not to say that Malaysia is good. But that Singapore is just as bad. On behalf of all Malaysians, let me welcome Singapore to the cesspit. :)

            BTW: I did not notice this mentioned in the news here in KL. Not that I expected it to. Most people here probably considered it “none of our business/send the Saudi back to his own country”. It’ll be very hard to find any supporter for this guy.

            He shouldn’t have came here. The government is facing election soon, and finds it politically more convenient to send him back to Saudi Arabia than on to New Zealand. This is a Muslim majority country. The opposition is a single coalition, comprising mostly of 3 major parties. The lead party draws much of its support from Muslims, and of the other two, one is Islamist. The last one just don’t want to rock the boat of their precious coalition.

      2. Singapore has the highest per capita execution rate in the world, corporal punishment for minor offenses and fewer civil liberties that hellholes like Turkmenistan.

  2. As a progressive atheist I’ve been finding myself defending Islam an awful lot (mostly over “there’s no such thing as a moderate muslim” bs from other atheists, and general ignorance of the political element in some of the animosity between Islamic governments and the US.)

    But it’s good to be reminded that Islamic theocracies are bad news bears.

    Of course, Saudi Arabia is our ally (guessing Malaysia is too, since we’re not bombing them), so I don’t expect much outcry from the US.

    1. I’d argue that most theocracies are bad news. There’s a lot of stuff in religious texts that I wouldn’t want the rule of law based directly on.

    2. As a progressive anti-theist, I have equal scorn for all religions. However, as Sam Harris notes, not all religions are equal. He’s right to point it out.

      I would rather live in a Westernized nation full of fundamentalists which I fight every day in the law and online than live in an Islamic one with a great risk to my own life.

      It’s that simple.

      1. For the last thirty years or so, the dark shadow of theocracy has been forecast to arrive in America about every year or two.

        Yet remarkably it misses us every time and lands in the Middle East instead.

      2.  What about pantheism?  Do you hate Nature and the Universe, and have equal scorn for yourself?

        Honest question, I mean no mockery.  I am always puzzled when people lump all religions together, with no discriminating between explicitly atheist religions, pantheism, panentheism, revelatory cults, etc.

        It seems to me like putting locomotives in the same functional class as amoebas and ballet instructors.

          1. Are you saying that the Universe and Nature don’t exist, or are you just nit-picking my analogy to duck the question? Consensual reality’s not usually considered a function.

            You can substitute locomotives, existential angst, and three prong one slot widgets, if you prefer, and try the question again.

    3. I feel exactly the same way.  As an atheist, I have no general affection for any anti-empirical, faith-based dogma.  However, when Peter King  (R-NY) actually convenes congressional anti-Islam hearings, or Dinesh D’Sousa or Christopher Hitchens (blessings and peace be upon him) start casually equating Islam with “islamofascism”, I find myself in the peculiar situation of sticking up for American Muslims.

      We already made this mistake in 1942 when we interned Japanese-American citizens into camps. In 30 to 40 years, we will be ashamed of what we’re doing right now vis a vis Muslims in America. It’s pitiful that it may get worse before it gets better.

      1. The victim here is also Muslim. Fomenting Islamophobia certainly won’t help him or any other victims of regressive laws. It’ll just get us into more wars, which will kill mostly innocent people.

        Demonizing people doesn’t help. Although it’s possible that the cleric in that video is actually possessed by a demon.

  3. In a civilized world there really is a problem with words begin enough to execute someone.

    It is nice to see Interpol saying it had nothing to do with them, yet the people who detained him disagree. 
    So was this just made up to give them a black eye, or was it back peddling after discovering this person was wanted for 3 tweets.

    I’m not a big fan of religion, many of their “faithful” often seem to think they get to pass judgement on me, and this case seems to highlight the problem.  To not allow someone to raise a question, or have a thought you dislike and demand they be executed for doing something “horrible” to a religion.

    I admit not having much knowledge of Islam, but I find it hard to believe that 3 tweets should result in his death.  This action of course will be capitalized upon by the xenophobic people in other countries as this is what will happen as we let them convert everyone to sharia law.  Of course those yelling the loudest about this often have their own religious law they seek to have become the law of the land.

    1. You mean those followers shouldn’t give voice to voiceless all-mighties they follow to get brownie points in return?

  4. Allright, Anonymous, this is your chance to prove your mettle. If you can hack in and find out whether Interpol had a hand in this atrocity, major lulz will be had. 

    And if they did, then it’s time we pressed our respective countries to pull out of Interpol.

  5. Fuck Interpol. Is there any way to save this guys life? The idea of someone this young and bright being dragged back to Saudi Arabia to have a trial by religous court and then have his head chopped off just makes me die a little inside. 

    It’s the 21 centuary, Athiesm is not a crime and religous freedom should come to places as backward and terrible as saudi arabia but first let’s save this guy.

    1.  But if Interpol was involved they would have just passed a message. Isn’t that what we would prefer to happen? Much better than every link in the chain making its own value judgement.

      1. Using Interpol to start a world wide manhunt should have a requirement of there being a serious crime that represents a clear threat to people. 
        Trying to use it to squash someone who dissented, and is not a clear and present danger to himself or others seems to be an abuse of the system.
        Or shall we just allow people to be detained worldwide because someone got hurt feelings?

        Arrest B. Smith, we caught him jaywalking and saying naughty things about the Queen.

        While every country can and does have its own laws, using Interpol for THIS is a clear example of why we should NOT have Interpol.
        If there isn’t a required level of “crime” that all sides agree is a serious matter to use the request the system is flawed.

        1.  So put the boot on the other foot. Lets say that New Zealand puts people in jail for life for environmental crimes which are standard practice in Saudi Arabia. One such criminal escapes to Malaysia half an hour ahead of the law. What should Interpol and Malaysia do in that case?

          1.  NZ – the country that does the bidding of the US and rolls out their elite anti-terrorism squad to scare children and maids looking for bombs in copyright infringement cases?  Yet the MP who promoted the copyright bill in NZ was tweeting about getting illegally burned music… hurm sure… confusing law country.

            I do not see how that is the jackboot on the other foot.  International manhunt to have people stopped should be used against those that are a clear threat. 
            Cult leader kills off followers and flees country – stop him.
            Teen accused of running a website that is legal in his home country stopped in a 3rd country to be sent elsewhere for trial… not so much a good use.

            There are of course international courts, and treaties and such… but to use a global system to stop “criminals” over something this petty seems like a bad use of the system.

          2. In order to maintain as politically neutral a role as possible, Interpol’s constitution forbids it to undertake any interventions or activities of a political, military, religious, or racial nature. Its work focuses primarily on public safety, terrorism, organized crime, crimes against humanity, environmental crime, genocide, war crimes, piracy, illicit drug production, drug trafficking, weapons smuggling, human trafficking, money laundering, child pornography, white-collar crime, computer crime, intellectual property crime and corruption.


      2. But if Interpol was involved they would have just passed a message. Isn’t that what we would prefer to happen? Much better than every link in the chain making its own value judgement.

        That is painfully close to the Nuremberg Defense.

        1. I doubt interpol would have been given enough information to make a value judgement. The Saudis are certainly free to load up the charge sheet. They have the upper hand here and the buck should stop there.

          1. I doubt interpol would have been given enough information to make a value judgement.

            Issuing international arrest warrants without sufficient information: What could possibly go wrong?

            Would you extend this courtesy if they were issuing warrants for runaway slaves, or are there some limits to how far you’re willing to go to defend Interpol?

    2.  By all indication, Hamza Kashgari is not an atheist. Not even his tweets were casting doubt at the existence of God; all he did was call out his peers for ascribing more holiness to Muhammad than what he felt was right.

      I don’t even think it’s bloody blasphemy as well, considering how much of Muslim polemics about Christianity is about how Christians ascribe too much divinity to Jesus.

      1. More holiness or any holiness? 

        There is a breed of Moslem who does not believe Mohammed literally talked to angels, was flown around to Jerusalem or was taken up to heaven. They think those things are figurative. When they are not stuck in a theocracy they can come out as atheist or agnostic or stay kind of Islamic deist. No matter the case they are right. The miraculous things attested to in the Koran never happened.

        What we have here are despicable self-serving clerics working up thousands of angry resentful stuck followers and the Saudi politicians to kill this young man. They are going to kill him. They are doing it to keep alive the lie and their positions of power. They are going to cut his head off and they are going to do it publicly so that thousands of idiots can cheer. An unending two minute hate.

        Then they are going to come after his friends and other “figurative” Koran readers. That is their freaking plan on their facebook group, kill him then kill the other atheists – their words. 

        WTF are you going to do about it? Have a discussion on reforming Interpol’s warrant verification process? Deny he was atheist/agnostic? 

        Forget all that. How about saving this guy. He’s better, smarter, more honest, and far braver than the horrible people howling for his blood.
        Call your congressman, call the Saudi embassy, offer him asylum, send money to amnesty international’s middle east branch. Save this guy.

        1. There is a breed of Moslem who does not believe Mohammed literally talked to angels, was flown around to Jerusalem or was taken up to heaven. They think those things are figurative.

          Agreed, and many of the Muslims I have met here in the USA seem to be of that reasonable point of view.

          It’s just a pity that the vast majority of countries in which they are freely allowed to say so, are those countries which are not majority Muslim.

    3.  In Saudi Arabia (and any other theocracy) its still the 6th century.  I know we in the West need their oil, but I would really love to see a campaign to completely cut all ties with Saudi Arabia until it becomes a civilized country. At the moment it is about as far from modern civilization as you can get, as evidence like this horrid situation bears witness.

  6. This backassward Muslim cráp is really some sick sh!t.
    You can beat the sh!t out of your kids and wife in Saudia Arabia, no problem.
    You can be killed for pitiful anti-allah crâp like this.
    Malaysia should be boycotted by tourists for taking part in this kidnapping.
    This whole god crap is getting old ~ time to let these old women’s tales go.

  7. I am very afraid that non-violence is not going to accomplish anything.
    If voting could change anything voting would be illegal.
    There needs to be a violent movement to sweep the world.
    The Arab Spring did not happen with rose pedals.
    I feel that the US military would very quickly stand with the people.
    It must come soon ~ this status quo bullshit is destroying the world.
    The corporations are raping the world beyond repair in the name of short term profits.
    The 1% must be stripped of their out of proportion control of power.
    By any means. Messy? Yes, very. But what is going on is vile and wrong.

    1.  re: “I feel that the US military would very quickly stand with the people. ”

      Are you talking here not in Saudi Arabia, yes? There won’t be any sort of Arab spring here. We are too placated, and the economy is finally on an uptick, making us even more so. As ‘bad’ as we have it, it pales in comparison compared to places who took part in the Arab Spring and are fighting still.

    2. As of now, it’s still not clear whether the “Arab Spring” will lead to fewer death sentences for “blasphemy”, or to more of them.

    1. I was dissappointed to read that Malaysian authorities handed him over to the Saudi government even though there was an injunction in the works.  The best thing we can do to keep Hamza safe is get this story mainstream overnight, so that the influential diplomats are pressured to get the right phones ringing.

    2. Kudos to BoingBoing and the Guardian for having the balls to reprint the offending tweet. I notice the craven BBC did not.

  8. This is deplorable…

    We all remember the hacked-off-nose propaghanda that the US used to get itself some public support for the Afghan sinkhole war,… why is it so conveniently forgotten when it’s our good friends in the Saudi Kingdom? 

    Yeah yeah, cheap oil, I know. And so do the politicians. 
    But I always assumed that the sheer amount of cognitive dissonance required by the average American citizen to hold these two seemingly conflicting viewpoints was something only deeply religious people possessed… oh wait. 

    1. … why is it so conveniently forgotten when it’s our good friends in the Saudi Kingdom?

      It’s the same with China. They lead the world in executions, massive corruption, terrible human rights record AND there are uprising going on: Crickets.

      Uprising in Libya: How fast can we get there to aid their noble and democratic struggle for mom and apple pie?

      We won’t offend any major trading or strategic partner.

      1. Wait … the US stance on Libya was more like: Let the Libyans struggle  and if the Rebels seem to have a decent chance on winning start  “aiding their noble and democratic struggle for mom and apple pie” 

        1.  In general, the US Military is sent in only in situations that can substantially benefit US Corporations. Not putting down the folks in uniform mind you, lots of respect there generally speaking, but I am putting down those who send them. Afghanistan was an exception mind you, not much there for US corporations to pillage.

      2.  Or allies of partners. It’s why we are sitting, wagging fingers at Libya, but not making a move because of China and Russia.

  9. In my youth we fought a great cold war against behavior like this, the gulags and the oppression. These days we cosy up to vermin like this because they control the tap to the oil. Pretty sad reflection on our greed basically. I hope they chop his head off in public, it would be a deserving tribute to the Wests moral behavior over the last thirty years.

  10. We’re often told to shut up, to be sensitive about the beliefs of other people. And that leads to this. When your belief becomes a bully, when you start demanding people to shut up because they offended you, and people cave to you, you feel entitled to this childish level of “respect”, where people won’t say anything not because of respect, but because you are an annoying crybaby (or cryelder).

    It might make things worse for Mr. Kashgari, so I am hesitant to propose this, but it might be a good idea to threat with blasphemy meltdown, if they execute him. If you really care about your precious belief, release him, let him go elsewhere, or we will fucking flood you and your country with the most disgusting blasphemy ever. If you thought that this was blasphemous and cried, you are going to be in shock after you see what we will deliver. However, if they execute him, we should do that. It will make them think twice next time it happens. 

    1. we will fucking flood you and your country with the most disgusting blasphemy ever

      Yeah, considering how many newspapers, TV shows, and websites were too gutless to display the Danish cartoons, I can see a whole lot of success for this plan.

      1. I did not say newspapers. I said us.

        Blasphemy Day II, or something. Hack the govt websites with cartoons and satire. 

  11. “Saudi cleric Nasser al-Omar demands between outbursts of tears that Kashgari be put on trial for insults to Allah and the Prophet Mohammad.”

    My god is not strong enough to withstand the words of a mortal, boo hoo.

  12. Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia…. where have I heard of that place before?

    Oh, yeah, that’s right, it was a bunch of Saudis that blew up the World Trade Center in New York back in the day.  I remember now.  They blew up the Pentagon and tried to blow up the White House, too.

    Shouldn’t we have bombed them into the stone age, invaded their country, and set up a puppet government from their most corrupt local insurgent faction by now?

    Because that would make sense, right?

      1. The Chewbacca defense…  Al Quaeda (a Saudi founded, Saudi financed, Saudi led, and Saudi controlled) organization had a club house in Afghanistan, and that magically exonerates Saudi Arabia and condemns Iraq.   Send in the bombers!

        By that logic, since the Al Quaeda operatives were were all members of the Flight Club of Florida, and one of them had a Mouseketeer Club card in his wallet, we should have razed Florida to the ground and waterboarded Annette Funicello.

  13. To those who think the Middle East and by extension the Muslim faith is being unjustly accused of disgusting abuses of human rights please join me in asking  their governments to stop institutionalizing the imprisonment, terror, torture, rape, and murder of their own people under the guise of religious “law”.

    I realize these are murky waters as for example, politely asking Syria to stop persecuting and slaughtering its own citizens might actually in itself be religiously persecuting the Syrian people by not allowing their rightfully elected/ordained government to police the tenants of its religious law as it sees fit.

    Also, plead with your governments and the Arab League to take care of their own problems, to stop pleading with the US and UN (as they are right now in regards to Syria) to step in and take care of these problems while at the same time accusing them of being oil-hungry invaders plotting with the “evil” Zionists overlords to overthrow the Middle East.  We’re not good with “mixed” signals.

    1. To those who think the Middle East and by extension the Muslim faith is being unjustly accused of disgusting abuses of human rights please join me in asking their governments to stop institutionalizing the imprisonment, terror, torture, rape, and murder of their own people under the guise of religious “law”.

      I’ll make you a deal. You ask your country to stop rendition flights to deliver people to our close allies to be tortured, and I’ll take your request under advisement.

      1. And I would agree.  I believe detention of suspected terrorists should be transparent and not in some black sites in foreign countries for the sole purpose of skirting laws and human rights that our government has sworn to uphold.

        That said, while there are certainly people held indefinitely and injustly, there are many, many people that belong there.  That further said, I don’t think that those who belong there should be held indefinitely under vague or no charges at all and without trial.

        I’m sure if anyone should be put in charge of some water-boarding, anything goes type gulag, we have a couple veto-happy UN partners that would be better suited to that end and with a proven track record to boot.

  14. If I knew it would turn up any way round to a death sentence, I would tweet something wayyyy offensive

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