Taken from : Google News (click skip the advertisement)
Hamza Kashgari, the young Saudi blogger whose foolhardy tweets about Prophet Muhammad left conservative clerics baying for his blood, is a poet and a dreamer, says a former colleague.
“Hamza always liked being alone, he wasn’t a social person,” said a senior editor at Al Bilad, the newspaper Mr. Kashgari used to work for.
“He had a broken look in his eyes and I think that was a sign of sadness or depression. He’s a poet and had a lot of philosophical ideas.”
He said the young writer had learned the Koran by heart and always had good manners, and none of his columns had touched on controversial religious ideas.
Now, the 23-year-old is Saudi Arabia’s most reviled man and could even face execution for blasphemy.
It’s all because of three tweets of an imagined conversation with the Prophet Muhammad.
Writing on the Prophet’s birthday, he said he “loved the rebel in you” and he “loved some aspects of you, hated others.”
The reaction on the Internet was swift and vitriolic.
First, there was a flurry of angry comments on Twitter — estimated at more than 30,000 in 24 hours. A Facebook page, “Saudi people want punishment for Hamza Kashgari,” has quickly grown to more than 20,000 members.
“The only choice is for Kashgari to be killed and crucified in order to be a lesson to other secularists,” commented Abu Abdulrahman, an online reader of al-Madina newspaper.
A YouTube video of a tearful Nasser al-Omar, a Saudi cleric, calling for Mr. Kashgari to be arrested and tried went viral.
Abdul-Aziz Khoja, the Saudi Information Minister, responded to the incident via Twitter.
“When I read what he posted, I wept and got very angry that someone in the country of the Two Holy Mosques attacks our Prophet in a manner that does not fit a Muslim.
“I have given instructions to ban him from writing for any Saudi newspaper or magazine, and there will be legal measures to guarantee that.”
In Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s two holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, such comments could be considered blasphemy and punishable by death under the kingdom’s strict interpretation of Islam.
Spooked by the reactions, Mr. Kashgari deleted the postings after only six hours. But it was too late.
His attempt to flee to New Zealand was foiled by authorities in Malaysia, who detained him in transit. He is now back in Saudi Arabia.
Some observers suggest the country’s conservative clerics seized on Mr. Kashgari’s tweets as a way of pushing back against the modest reforms enacted by King Abdullah. These include allowing women to vote in local elections and to work in lingerie stores.
They also point out Saudi clerics have been quick to realize the potential of the Internet as a tool for proselytizing. They are now among some of the country’s most active tweeters.
Mr. Kashgari is a graduate of the University of King Abdulaziz, with a major in Islamic studies. He left Al Bilad newspaper five weeks before the incident because of disagreements over money and his writing.
Before his arrest, Mr. Kashgari said in an interview with the U.S. news website the Daily Beast he did not think he could ever go home because of the death threats, but was also defiant.
“I view my actions as part of a process toward freedom. I was demanding my right to practise the most basic human rights — freedom of expression and thought – so nothing was done in vain,” he said.
“I believe I’m just a scapegoat for a larger conflict. There are a lot of people like me in Saudi Arabia who are fighting for their rights.”