Over the weekend, a drama with potentially horrific consequences for freedom-loving Americans played out half-a-world away.
A Saudi newspaper columnist named Hamza Kashgari was detained in Malaysia, reportedly on the basis of an alert by the International Criminal Police Organization, better known as Interpol. Reuters quotes a Malaysian police spokesman as saying that, “This arrest was part of an Interpol operation which the Malaysian police were a part of.” It was apparently mounted in response to a “red notice” (or request for help apprehending an individual) issued by Saudi Arabia. Kashgari was then sent back to Saudi Arabia where he faces almost certain death.
Mr. Kashgari’s crime? He criticized the founder of Islam, Mohammed, on his Twitter account. According to press he reports, he addressed the man Muslims call theProphet directly, writing: “ I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you. There is a lot I don’t understand about you….I will not pray for you.”
The reaction in Saudi Arabia has been characteristically over-the-top when it comes to such alleged “blasphemy” against Islam. Clerics have denounced Kashgari for apostasy, a capital offense under the totalitarian Islamic code known as shariah. And tens of thousands of his countrymen have expressed indignation, with some 13,000 signing an online petition calling for the columnist’s execution.
Interpol is basically, an international coordination mechanism for national police authorities that is supposed, as Jago Russell, the chief executive of the British NGO Fair Trials International told The Guardian, “to respect human rights and free speech” and steer clear of “religious or political cases.” So why, if the Malaysian police are telling the truth, did it apparently violate all such guidelines?
An Interpol spokesman insists that his organization had nothing to do with Hamza Kashgari’s apprehension in Malaysia and involuntary return to Saudi Arabia. What is clear at this point is that the Saudis sought help apprehending the man who fled their not-so-tender mercies. It seems likely that the Saudi red notice to Interpol provided the Malays a pretext for intercepting and extraditing a columnist who dared to exercise free speech.
If Interpol is now being used, in effect, to enforce shariah blasphemy laws, it is not just somebodyelse’s problem. It is ours.
After all, in a December 2009 executive order unveiled on a Friday afternoon in the run-up to the Christmas holidays, President Obama issued Executive Order 13524. It amended an earlier order by President Reagan that conferred on Interpol some – but not all – of the privileges of a foreign diplomatic mission.
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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