Thursday February 16, 2012
Asylum must not be denied
Along The Watchtower
By M. VEERA PANDIYAN
The deportation of a Saudi Arabian journalist to his home country, where he faces charges for alleged religious crimes, is turning out to be yet another global PR debacle for Malaysia.
UNDER the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
The UDHR entitles all citizens of the world to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.
Article 11 states that those charged with a penal offence have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a public trial in which he or she must have all the guarantees necessary for defence.
It assures that no one shall be held guilty of any offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence under national or international law at the time it was committed.
Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.
Under Article 14, everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Seen from the standpoint of such assurances in the declaration, the deportation of Saudi Arabian journalist Mohammad Najeeb A. Kashgari, 23, to his home country – where he faces persecution for allegedly insulting Prophet Muhammad on Twitter – is turning out to be yet another global PR debacle for Malaysia.
Mohammad Najeeb, who is also known as Hamza Kashgari, was deported on Sunday after being held for three days upon arrival at Kuala Lumpur International Airport enroute to New Zealand.
The Jeddah-based newspaper columnist and blogger fled Saudi Arabia after his comments fuelled a gush of fury in the Middle Eastern kingdom.
The criticisms have not only come from the usual Human Rights groups but also from former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
He said the authorities should have studied the case of the Saudi Arabian journalist thoroughly before making the decision to send him back.
“If it causes the loss of life, we have to see the justification,” he said.
The Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), meanwhile, has slammed the repatriation as a breach of international human rights rules and norms.
Stressing that Suhakam was “greatly disappointed” and “shocked” that the deportation took place, its vice-chairperson Khaw Lake Tee said it would have severe negative impacts on Malaysia.
Human Rights Watch senior Middle East researcher Christoph Wilcke has accused Malaysia of being “complicit in sealing Hamza Kashgari’s fate”.
“Saudi clerics have already made up their mind that he is an apostate who must face punishment,” he said.
While what the severity of Hamza Kashgari tweeted may be debatable from the opposing views of clerics and human rights groups, the remark by Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein that Malaysia was not a protected haven for fugitives has riled many Malaysians.
The context of his statement – that he would not allow Malaysia to be seen as a safe country for terrorists and those wanted by their countries of origin, and also as a transit country – has certainly not gone down well.
The Kuala Lumpur High Court has since fixed Feb 22 to hear a preliminary objection by the Malaysian Government to the journalist’s habeas corpus application.
Hamza Kashgari has named Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar, the Malaysian Immigration director-general, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and the Malaysian Government as respondents.
He is seeking an order to be brought before the court to be formally charged.
In Saudi Arabia, the death penalty is applied for a gamut of offences – from murder and rape to blasphemy, apostasy, sorcery, adultery, drug trafficking, and even predicting the future.
In December 2010, it was one of a minority of states that voted against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.
Beheadings, condemned by the West as barbaric, are the most common form of imposing the death penalty.
Last year, 79 people, including five women, were executed, nearly triple the previous year’s 27.
The beheading of a woman, Amina Abdul Halim Salem Nasser, who was convicted of “witchcraft and sorcery”, sparked global outrage last year.
Sorcery may not be clearly defined under Saudi Arabian law, but it has been used to punish people for the legitimate exercise of their human rights.
In another famous case several years ago, a man was sentenced for concocting a spell that caused a policeman’s father to leave his second wife.
At the time of his arrest, the English language Saudi Gazette ran an article titled “Magic Maids”.
Among other things, it called for the “facing up of threats from some maids and servants and their satanic games of witchcraft and sorcery, their robbery, murder, entrapment of husbands, corruption of children and other countless stories of crime that have been highlighted by both experts and victims of these crimes”.
One wonders how our own celebrated bomoh – especially those frequently called in to help politicians facing trials in courts as well as football teams seeking spiritual help – would fare if sorcery were similarly enforced as a crime in Malaysia.
> Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this observation by former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold: Freedom from fear could be said to sum up the whole philosophy of human rights.