Authorities in Saudi Arabia have released Turki al Hamad, a liberal writer who was arrested last December for tweeting messages deemed to be insulting to Islam. Hamad, a novelist and political commentator, had been in detention without trial. His attorney, Walid Abulkhair, told Agence France Presse that Hamas returned home Wednesday morning and that he “has not been put on trial, and has not faced any charges.”
It is unclear why the authorities decided to suddenly free Hamad. Hamad’s arrest in December followed a tip provided by religious organizations – eventually, an arrest order was signed by Interior Minister Prince Mohammad Bin Nayef Bin Abdel Aziz.
According to reports, Hamad’s tweets had criticized radical psalmists whom he claimed were misinterpreting and corrupting the Prophet Muhammad’s “message of love.” He also characterized the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism as “a neo-Nazism on the rise in the Arab world -- Islamic extremism.”
Hamad’s case raised debate over the use of social media in the conservative oil kingdom. In January, about 500 people signed a petition demanding that Saudi Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdul Aziz release Hamad. Last year another Saudi who got in trouble for posting questionable tweets, young blogger Hamza Kashgari, remains behind bars on blasphemy charges.
But this is hardly the first time that Hamad had run afoul of Saudi government. Similar to British-Indian author Salman Rushdie, who was condemned to death by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran for his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses,” Hamad faced his own death threats and fatwas over his works, including “Phantoms of the Deserted Alley,” a 1998 trilogy about the life of a Saudi teenager in the 1960s and 1970s.
Banned in the kingdom and other Gulf states, "Phantoms” dealt with extremely controversial and taboo topics like sexuality, religious freedom and protest movements. The danger posed to Hamad was so severe, including threats from al-Qaeda, that the then-Crown Prince Abdullah provided him with bodyguards.
In a 2008 interview with Al-Arabiya TV, Hamad made a number of salient, even inflammatory, points about Saudi Arabia. Noting that Arab society and culture are "regressing, not progressing," and, worse, "in a superstitious and unreasonable manner, Hamad added that the Arabs "are living in a world of the supernatural," not "logic," and that the "so-called religious awakening" has turned everything upside down.”
“The prevalent culture is backward, yet the political regime uses this culture to glorify itself, without realizing that it is destroying the future,” he lamented. “We move forward with our eyes looking backward."
Hamas also expressed grave skepticism about the future of the Arab world. "After this period of my life, I am very pessimistic about the possibility of making real changes in our culture and society,” he said. “Time will tell whether we were successful in achieving any result. But I am not optimistic, and as time goes by, I am becoming more pessimistic about this."
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.