- The Washington Times - Friday, February 17, 2012

In America, sending the wrong tweet can mean embarrassment, ostracism or losing your seat in Congress. In Saudi Arabia, it can cost you your head.

Hamza Kashgari is a 23-year-old journalist who wrote for the daily al-Bilad in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. On Feb. 4, the observance of Muhammad’s birthday, Mr. Kashgari sent out three tweets expressing what he would say if he met Islam’s founder. “On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you,” the first read. “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,” went the second. The third tweet said, “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.”

The messages immediately caused controversy. Some welcomed and retweeted them, but thousands more angry Saudis called for Mr. Kashgari’s head for supposedly insulting Muhammad. He deleted the offending messages but soon lost his job. Last week, he attempted to flee to safety in New Zealand but was intercepted as he tried to pass through the Muslim country of Malaysia and whisked back to Saudi Arabia in a private jet. He is being held incommunicado in Jeddah while a prosecutor collects evidence to bring a case against him for “disrespecting God” and “insulting the prophet.” A conviction on either charge could bring the death penalty.

Freedom of thought is a capital crime in the Saudi kingdom. On Monday, Sheikh Saleh bin Fowzan Al Fowzan of the supreme committee of scholars in Saudi Arabia said, “We should first verify that this man did insult … Muhammad in his article on Twitter … if verified, then he must be killed.” There are reports that those who expressed public support for Mr. Kashgari’s message also could face the same charges; even a retweet could lead to the chopping block.

This is not merely a Saudi internal affair. When an Islamic theocracy may execute someone for a tweet, it’s an affront to humanity. “I view my actions as part of a process toward freedom,” Mr. Kashgari said shortly before his arrest. “I was demanding my right to practice the most basic human rights - the freedom of expression and thought - so nothing was done in vain.” These words may be his epitaph.

The Washington Times