Hamza Kashgari To Be Released

Hamza Kashgari, the detained Saudi writer accused of blasphemy, will be freed in the next few weeks after a court in Riyadh accepted his repentance, multiple sources said.

Human rights activist Souad al-Shammary tweeted that a Sharia court in the capital has ratified his repentance in the presence of his family, and that he showed his regret over what he has written about the Prophet.

I have tried to reach Kashgar’s lawyer but he did not answer his phone, but I have confirmed this through a friend-of-a-friend of the writer. Local news site Sabq cited sources that also confirmed the news.

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Update on Kashgari’s Case

Just a quick update on the Hamza Kashgari case since many people have been asking: The young man is now in detention, his family visited him and he is reportedly in high spirits and being treated respectfully. Several sites and petitions have been set up to support him and call for his release.

Prominent human rights lawyer Abdul-Rahman al-Lahem has announced that he will defend Kashgari, arguing that he will push for this case to be handled by a committee in the information ministry instead of a Sharia court.

Meanwhile, several people on the right are claiming that Hamza is a member what they believe is a “sleeping cell” to spread atheism among Saudi youth. Al-Hayat has a thinly sourced story saying public prosecutors are likely to summon people that supported or agreed with Kashgari, which opened the door widely for something like a witch hunt.

People like Mohammed al-Hodaif are accusing Abdullah Hamidaddin of being the cell leader but so far they have failed to provide a strong evidence to support their claims.The two men faced off on TV today where al-Hodaif threatened Hamidaddin, who is currently traveling to the US, to return to the Kingdom for a trial in a Saudi court.

Let Them Protest

Riyadh witnessed a comeback for cinema after 30 years of absence. Menahi, a movie produced by Alwaleed’s Rotana, was opened to public in King Fahad Cultural Center (KFCC) last week. I was curious to see how this was going to play out, but not curious enough to actually go there myself. The main reason for missing on this “historical event,” as some called it, is because I dislike Faiz al-Malki (the rumors about his assassination are false btw, he is alive and well, shooting a TV series in Taif). I believe I’m free to dislike al-Malki, and also free to express that dislike in any way I deem appropriate. Look, I just did exactly that in this paragraph. Some people go to extreme measures to express their opinions, and that’s also fine, as long as they don’t cause physical harm to others or damage property. It’s called freedom of expression.

That being said, I was not surprised to read that several groups of young men attempted to disrupt the movie’s showings at KFCC, by trying to persuade moviegoers to leave in order to close down the show. We have seen this kind of behavior before in the book fair, Yamama College theater, and other places.

Dawood al-Sherian does not like how the local media covered what happened this time, or more specifically how columnists and opinion writers like him talked about it. He thinks that most writers have linked between the behavior of these young men with terrorism. “They almost made it look like a plot by al-Qaeda,” he wrote. He says that if the writers support the return of cinema as a form for freedom of expression, then they should welcome the reaction of those men in the same spirit.

I agree with him that linking this behavior to terrorism and al-Qaeda is unfair, but I don’t think it is far-fetched to link it to extremism. I don’t know about you, but I really think there is something extreme about trying to convince people to leave and close down the show. I admit it is hard sometimes to draw the line between what is accepted as freedom of expression and what is not, but in this case it seems easy enough. The young men should have been allowed to hold their protests outside KFCC, under the eyes of the police to make sure that things don’t get out of control. Now of course Dawood al-Sherian would never say such thing, probably because his limits are different than mine, or simply because he knows that public demonstrations are not allowed here.

Although I’m not sure if/how this would work, but I think that if they were allowed to express their disapproval this way they won’t feel it necessary to go extreme and try to stop the show, or start vandalizing and destroying like what happened in Jouf where they burned a tent prepared for literary events.

Decades of fundamentalist religious propaganda have made the concept of “freedom of expression” seems very alien to our culture, but that does not mean it truly is. This is a universal basic human right; it was not invented by the infidel West. Some Saudi pseudo-liberals claim that too much freedom of expression is bad — even dangerous — for this country, simply because it would give their opponents more rights that these opponents are trying to deny the rest of us now. That’s a fallacy. The real test of how sincere we are about freedom of expression is in how much we are willing to tolerate those we disagree with.

Matrook Al-Faleh Freed

Matrook al-Faleh has been released from jail earlier today. Al-Faleh was arrested last May in Riyadh after criticizing the poor situation of Buraida General Prison where his fellow activist Abdullah al-Hamed was jailed until last September after he completed a six-month sentence there. Al-Faleh, a political science professor at KSU, was put in solitary confinement for the whole period, he had no access to a lawyer, and no accusations were officially made against him.

It is good to see Matrook al-Faleh free again and back to his family and friends, and I certainly hope other jailed prisoners of conscience will be released soon.

Blogging or Bragging?

070709_tech_karaoketnIt is extremely saddening how some of us were so brainwashed that they reached a stage where even the most basic human rights have become alien to them. Al-Riyadh daily asked their readers earlier this week about blogging and if blogs are a medium for spreading ideas and sharing opinions or simply a place for bragging and showing off. So freedom of expression is bragging now? *sigh*

Too Much to Ask?

More than 75 days have passed since the arrest of Matrook al-Faleh, the political sciences professor at KSU, who was taken from his office at the university in a manner that is inappropriate and unacceptable, to say the least. No official statement has been released on why he was arrested and what are the charges against him. He remains in solitary confinement and he is yet to be allowed to meet his lawyer.

Jamila al-Uqla, al-Faleh’s wife, has issued a statement today saying what her husband is put through violates Sharia, as well as international laws and accords which oppose any kind of treatment that degrades human dignity. She also called on human rights organizations and activists around the world to speak out for him and ask for his release because his demands are peaceful and public.

There is not much more to say other than repeating what I said here two months ago, and also what 140 intellectuals and activists wrote in a petition to the King that was published in early June. Either release him, or present him to a fair public trial.

You Can’t Kill the Future

It has been two weeks since Matrook al-Faleh was arrested in Riyadh. Despite requests from human rights organizations and the media, the Ministry of Interior is yet to explain why they arrested him.

Activist Fowzan al-Harbi has posted a message to the Saudis for Constitution group this morning saying that a relative of al-Faleh’s has attempted to visit him in al-Hayer Prison yesterday but has been denied. He has been told to go to the ministry, where he asked about the charges against al-Faleh. He has been told the charges are “releasing statements opposing the government and browsing banned websites.”

Jamila al-Uqla, al-Faleh’s wife, has told CNN last week following a visit to her husband in prison that he is in a terrible state. No one has been allowed to visit him since then.

It is truly sad that in a time when our country is trying reform and move towards more openness and freedom that a great intellectual like Matrook al-Faleh is detained for simply practicing his right of free speech by highlighting the miserable state of prisons; in a time when our King says even his majesty is not above criticism, people are being arrested for merely speaking their minds. It pains me to no end that as much as some of us love this country, they keep hurting those who love it the most. They keep on trying to dash our hopes without realizing that they can’t kill the future; they are just delaying the inevitable