Prominent Saudi Writer Arrested After Controversial Tweets

Saudi authorities have arrested writer Turki al-Hamad today based on orders from Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Naif, according to Al Arabiya’s correspondent Khaled al-Matrafi. Local news site Sabq also reported the news, citing unnamed sources.

Al-Hamad, a political analyst and novelist, has published a series of controversial tweets Saturday criticizing Islamists who, he said, “have distracted us with nonsense that we forgot the important issues.” In his next tweet he likened Islamism to Nazism. “But the age of Nazism is long gone,” he said, “and the sun will rise again.”

However, the tweet that seemed to have caused the strongest reaction from conservatives on Twitter came earlier that day. In that tweet he said: “Our Prophet had come to rectify the faith of Abraham, and now is a time when we need someone to rectify the faith of Mohammed.”

Turki al-Hamad is not new to controversy. The writer, who was jailed in his youth for political activism before moving to the US for graduate school, was previously denounced by clerics in Saudi Arabia for his novels. They issued several fatwas against him, and he told the BBC in 2003 that he has received several death threats.

This is also not the first time al-Hamad causes controversy on Twitter. In December 2011, he published a series of scathing tweets criticizing Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahad, a Minister of State who has previously served as Chief of the Royal Court.

“Sir, you don’t know anything about anything, but you are running a state,” al-Hamad told the Prince. “Thanks to your policies, we are heading to a disaster.”

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that applies a strict interpretation of Islam. Criticism of religion or the royal family is rarely tolerated. Hamza Kashgari, a young Saudi writer, was arrested in February after he published some controversial tweets about Prophet Mohammed and he remains in prison.