Interpol has been accused of abusing its powers after Saudi Arabia used the organisation’s red notice system to get a journalist arrested in Malaysia for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.
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.
Kashgari, a newspaper columnist, fled Saudi Arabia after posting a tweet on the prophet’s birthday that sparked more than 30,000 responses and several death threats. The posting, which was later deleted, 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.”
More than 13,000 people joined a Facebook page titled “The Saudi People Demand the Execution of Hamza Kashgari”.
Clerics in Saudi Arabia called for him to be charged with apostasy, a religious offence punishable by death. Reports suggest that the Malaysian authorities intend to return him to his native country.
Kashgari’s detention has triggered criticism by human rights groups of Malaysia’s decision to arrest the journalist and of Interpol’s cooperation in the process.
Jago Russell, the chief executive of the British charity Fair Trials International, which has campaigned against the blanket enforcement of Interpol red notices, said: “Interpol should be playing no part in Saudi Arabia’s pursuit of Hamza Kashgari, however unwise his comments on Twitter.
“If an Interpol red notice is the reason for his arrest and detention it would be a serious abuse of this powerful international body that is supposed to respect basic human rights (including to peaceful free speech) and to be barred from any involvement in religious or political cases.”
He called on Interpol to stand by its obligations to fundamental human rights and “to comply with its obligation not to play any part in this case, which is clearly of a religious nature”.
Interpol, which has 190 member countries, has a series of coloured notice systems that police forces around the world use to pass on requests for help. Contacted at its headquarters in Lyon, France, the organisation did not immediately reply to requests for comment on the Kashgari case.
In response to past criticisms of the red notice system, it has said: “There are safeguards in place. The subject of a red notice can challenge it through an independent body, the commission for the control of Interpol’s files (CCF).”
Last year Interpol was accused by Fair Trials International of allowing the system to be abused for political purposes when it issued a red notice for the arrest of the Oxford-based leader of an Asian separatist movement, Benny Wenda, who has been granted asylum and has lived in the UK since 2003.
QALQILIYA, West Bank — A mysterious blogger who set off an uproar in the Arab world by claiming he was God and hurling insults at the Prophet Muhammad is now behind bars — caught in a sting that used Facebook to track him down.
The case of the unlikely apostate, a shy barber from this backwater West Bank town, is highlighting the limits of tolerance in the Western-backed Palestinian Authority — and illustrating a new trend by authorities in the Arab world to mine social media for evidence.
Residents of Qalqiliya say they had no idea that Walid Husayin — the 26-year-old son of a Muslim scholar — was leading a double life.
Known as a quiet man who prayed with his family each Friday and spent his evenings working in his father’s barbershop, Husayin was secretly posting anti-religion rants on the Internet during his free time.
Now, he faces a potential life prison sentence on heresy charges for “insulting the divine essence.” Many in this conservative Muslim town say he should be killed for renouncing Islam, and even family members say he should remain behind bars for life.
“He should be burned to death,” said Abdul-Latif Dahoud, a 35-year-old Qalqiliya resident. The execution should take place in public “to be an example to others,” he added.
Over several years, Husayin is suspected of posting arguments in favor of atheism on English and Arabic blogs, where he described the God of Islam as having the attributes of a “primitive Bedouin.” He called Islam a “blind faith that grows and takes over people’s minds where there is irrationality and ignorance.”
Claims about what God wants
If that wasn’t enough, he is also suspected of creating three Facebook groups in which he sarcastically declared himself God and ordered his followers, among other things, to smoke marijuana in verses that spoof the Muslim holy book, the Quran. At its peak, Husayin’s Arabic-language blog had more than 70,000 visitors, overwhelmingly from Arab countries.
His Facebook groups elicited hundreds of angry comments, detailed death threats and the formation of more than a dozen Facebook groups against him, including once called “Fight the blasphemer who said ‘I am God.'”
The outburst of anger reflects the feeling in the Muslim world that their faith is under mounting attack by the West. This sensitivity has periodically turned violent, such as the street protests that erupted in 2005 after cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad were published in Denmark or after Pope Benedict XVI suggested the Prophet Muhammad was evil the following year. The pope later retracted his comment.
Husayin is the first to be arrested in the West Bank for his religious views, said Tayseer Tamimi, the former chief Islamic judge in the area.
The Western-backed Palestinian Authority is among the more religiously liberal Arab governments in the region. It is dominated by secular elites and has frequently cracked down on hardline Muslims and activists connected to its conservative Islamic rival, Hamas.
Husayin’s high public profile and prickly style, however, left authorities no choice but to take action.
Husayin used a fake name on his English and Arabic-language blogs and Facebook pages. After his mother discovered articles on atheism on his computer, she canceled his Internet connection in hopes that he would change his mind.
Instead, he began going to an Internet cafe — a move that turned out to be a costly mistake. The owner, Ahmed Abu-Asal, said the blogger aroused suspicion by spending up to seven hours a day in a corner booth. After several months, a cafe worker supplied captured snapshots of his Facebook pages to Palestinian intelligence officials.
Officials monitored him for several weeks and then arrested him on Oct. 31 as he sat in the cafe, said Abu-Asal.
The case is the second high-profile arrest connected in the West Bank connected to Facebook activity. In late September, a reporter for a news station sympathetic to Hamas was arrested and detained for more than a month after he was tagged in a Facebook image that insulted the Palestinian president.Gaza’s Hamas rulers also stalk Facebook pages of suspected dissenters, said Palestinian rights activist Mustafa Ibrahim. He said Internet cafe owners are forced to monitor customers’ online activity, and alert intelligence officials if they see anything critical of the militant group or that violates Hamas’ stern interpretation of Islam.
Going fishing on Facebook
Both governments also create fake Facebook profiles to befriend and monitor known dissidents, activists said. In September, a young Gaza man was detained after publishing an article critical of Hamas on his Facebook feed.
Such “stalking” on Facebook and other social media sites has become increasingly common in the Arab world. In Lebanon, four people were arrested over the summer and accused of slandering President Michel Suleiman on Facebook. All have been released on bail.
In neighboring Syria, Facebook is blocked altogether. And in Egypt, a blogger was charged with atheism in 2007 after intelligence officials monitored his posts.
Saudi Arabia’s religious police have arrested 10 “emo” women for allegedly causing a disturbance in a coffee shop, Al-Yaum newspaper has reported.
The coffee shop owner in the eastern city of Dammam called the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice to complain after the young women, dressed and made up in the “emo” fashion, apparently began disturbing other clients.
The religious police then called their parents to come and collect the women, and to sign pledges that the girls would not repeat their ostensibly offensive un-Islamic behaviour and dress.
According to recent reports, growing numbers of urban young Saudi women are latching on to the emo fashion popular from Japan to Europe and the Americas.
The trend is characterised by wearing skinny black jeans, tennis shoes, colourful T-shirts bearing the names of emo bands, heavy make up and sharply chopped and sometimes radically coloured hairdos.
While Saudi women normally must appear in public shrouded by all-black abayas and headscarves, some daringly open their abayas in places such as malls and coffee shops to reveal more trendy outfits underneath.
Ottawa police have issued an arrest warrant for a Roman Catholic bishop from Nova Scotia facing child pornography charges.
Raymond Lahey, a native of Newfoundland who was with the Antigonish diocese until his sudden resignation on Saturday, currently can’t be found, Ottawa police Const. Jean-Paul Vincelette said Wednesday.
Sgt. Brigdit Leger of the Halifax RCMP said Ottawa police officers have spoken with Lahey, though they do not know where he is.
A spokeswoman for Anthony Mancini, the archbishop of Halifax who is overseeing the Antigonish diocese until a replacement for Lahey is named, said Mancini spoke briefly with Lahey by phone after learning of the charges through the media, but he did not know Lahey’s whereabouts.
Lahey was re-entering Canada at the Ottawa International Airport on Sept. 15 when members of the Canada Border Services Agency pulled him aside for a secondary examination, according to a release from Ottawa police. Officers found images on Lahey’s laptop computer “that were of concern.”
He was released at the time. The computer was seized and police said a subsequent forensic examination of the computer revealed child pornography.
Lahey was charged on Sept. 25. No court date has been set.
The former leader of the diocese of Antigonish is perhaps best known as the man who helped broker a $15-million settlement with people who said they had been sexually abused by priests in the diocese, in some cases dating back to 1950. That settlement was approved by a Nova Scotia court on Sept. 10.
Ron Martin, lead plaintiff in the class-action suit that led to the settlement, reacted with shock when he learned of the pornography charges. Martin said over the phone that he needed to speak with his lawyer and declined further comment.
On Saturday, Lahey, 69, announced his resignation as bishop of the Antigonish diocese, which the Vatican accepted. In a letter to parishioners, Lahey said he needed time for “personal renewal.”
‘Is there anyone left that we can believe?’? Anthony Mancini, archbishop of Halifax
“While I will no longer be with you on this journey, I am confident that your faith and compassion will continue to sustain you as they have always done,” he wrote at the time.
Mancini, who is heading to Sydney on Thursday to speak with Lahey’s former parishioners and hold a news conference, said he didn’t know of the charges against Lahey until he was contacted by CBC News.
“I didn’t know what the nature of the resignation, what the reasons were,” Mancini said. “And so, now I know what the reasons are.”
Mancini said he was concerned about how this would affect the credibility of the church.
“Shocked, hurt because it impacts on me as a leader who was trying to do my job.” he said. “So, honestly, part of my concern is, is there anyone left that we can believe?
“I think many will see this as something that will make the church less credible than we are. It certainly reminds us all that if ever we thought that we had a perfect church, we certainly don’t,” Mancini said.
Rev. Paul Abbass, spokesman for the diocese of Antigonish, said the charges would not affect the legal obligations of the diocese to the multimillion-dollar settlement.
“Will this hurt the survivors yet again? I think, absolutely, it will,” he said.
Lahey was named to the position of bishop of the diocese of Antigonish in 2003 by Pope John Paul II. He once served as a professor of theology at Memorial University in St. John’s.
What is becoming a weekly event, we must now all together do a collective slap of the cheek and make a shocked face. Ready? Go!
A popular US radio DJ and host of the Godtalk program has been indicted on two counts of child pornography using the internet.
A self-described progressive and former Catholic priest, Bernie Ward works for San Francisco radio station KGO, hosting a night-time chat show and Sunday morning religious program, Godtalk.
KGO’s website today reported that Ward was indicted in the US Federal Court on two counts of child pornography using the internet.
The report quoted Wardâ€™s attorney as saying the incidents were from more than four years ago and were a part of research for a book.
KGOâ€™s Operations Director Jack Swanson said: â€œBernie Ward has been a valued, long-time employee of KGO Radio.