But he’s a well-known figure. For somebody to just express his opinion online, it’s much easier to have quiet solidarity than to do so online because anybody might be next on the target list and reputation and defamation of reputation is a big issue in Saudi Arabia because it’s linked to your family, your jobs prospects, and even marriage prospects sometimes.
Q: Given everything that you’ve described in terms of the environment in Saudi Arabia, do you fear that the task before you is an impossible one, and that essentially the human rights community is an outsider to events unfolding in Saudi Arabia and that it’s very difficult to influence?
I will be very frank with you here. I don’t think that we will see a genuine discussion about the right to freedom of expression and freedom of religion in Saudi Arabia.
What we are trying to do is really raise the price internationally for Saudi Arabia to go ahead with the prosecution of Kashgari.
I think it’s very important that Saudi authorities in the highest places realize that if they want to be part of the international community of nations, they have to respect certain rules. And among them are rules of human rights which say you have the right to peacefully express your opinions.
Q: When you say “raise the price,” what do you mean by that?
For example, Saudi Arabia is an elected member of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Before that Human Rights Council was established a few years ago, there was an attempt to lay down certain minimum rules for its membership. They remained, unfortunately, at the level of goodwill proposals.
But, the members of the Human Rights Council should think twice whether they want a member like Saudi Arabia. Malaysia, the country who sent Kashgari back [to Saudi Arabia] is also a member of the human right council.
Q: In terms of the Kashgari case, is there any other case like it that you can recall in Saudi Arabia and how has that case ended?
Well, there is a very recent case of Hadi al-Mutif, who was released on February 10th, 2012.
He was convicted of blasphemy and therefore apostasy in 1996, and he was arrested in 1993, so he spent 18 years in jail on that charge and conviction.
And I’ve talked to al-Mutif while he was in prison, and we lobbied very hard on his behalf publicly and behind closed doors. We got the highest court in Saudi Arabia to review his case based on a recommendation by the king, but there was nothing doing.
The hardline clerics remained adamant. What led to his release recently was an arranged private meeting between the chief mufti, who declares religious rulings, and the prisoner in which he accepted the prisoner’s repentance and remorse.
So this is a possible way out in Kashgari’s case. We’re glad the execution and death sentence wasn’t carried out against al-Mutif. But he did spend 18 years in prison.
Q: What do you know in terms of the conditions Mr. Kashgari is being kept in? How is he holding up?
Well we don’t have direct knowledge. We have a well-sourced media report that he is being held in a private villa in Riyadh where he was allowed to make a phone call to his family to say he was not being ill-treated.
I am not right now concerned of ill-treatment by Saudi authorities because the case is so high profile. I’d be a little more concerned somewhere down the line if there is a guilty verdict and then he joins the general prison population.
Right now, the focus is on raising the price internationally, making sure Saudi Arabia weighs carefully whether or not to proceed with the case, and that if it does, that a full and fair hearing of his case is taking place which is a very steep and uphill battle in Saudi Arabia.