Muslim man sentenced after threatening 'South Park' writers

James Vicini
June 22, 2012

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Muslim convert from New York was sentenced on Friday to 11-1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty to threatening the writers of the satirical "South Park" television show for their depiction of the Prophet Mohammad and to other criminal charges.

Jesse Curtis Morton, 33, who is also known as Younus Abdullah Muhammed, was put on three years of probation after he completes his prison term. The sentence was handed down in federal court inAlexandria, Virginia, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Morton, who ran a website that encouraged Muslims to engage in violence against enemies of Islam, pleaded guilty in February to making threatening communications, using the Internet to put others in fear and using his position as leader of the Revolution Muslim organization's Internet sites to conspire to commit murder.

"Jesse Morton sought to inspire Muslims to engage in terrorism by providing doctrinal justification for violence against civilians in the name of Islam," U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said.

"His crimes not only put people's lives forever in danger, but they also chilled free expression out of fear of retaliation by violent terrorists," MacBride said in a statement.

He had worked on website postings with Zachary Chesser of Virginia, who pleaded guilty in October 2010 to sending threatening communications to the "South Park" writers and to other charges.

Morton was arrested in Rabat, Morocco, last year and brought back to the United States, where he pleaded guilty. He had faced a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

Morton admitted he helped Chesser in taking repeated steps in April 2010 to encourage violent extremists to attack the "South Park" writers for the episode on the cable channelComedy Central that featured Mohammad in a bear suit.

Most Muslims consider any depiction of the founder of Islam as offensive. Morton and Chesser posted where the writers resided and encouraged online readers to "pay them a visit," according to court documents.

Morton worked with Chesser to draft a message for the website about the "South Park" threats and they posted a final version of the statement on various extremist online forums.

Morton also conspired with Chesser and others to solicit the murder of an artist tied to the "Everyone Draw Mohammad Day" movement in May 2010, including posting online a magazine that included the artist in a hit list for violent extremists. Chesser was sentenced to 25 years in prison last year.

The case is USA v. Morton, No. 12-cr-35, in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Saudi writer Hamza Kashgari faces charge of blasphemy after tweets about Muhammad
By David Keyes, Published: February 9
The Washington Post

Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari was detained in Malaysia on Wednesday night and is likely to be extradited soon to Saudi Arabia, where he will be tried for blaspheming religion. Kashgari, 23, had fled the kingdom Monday after he received thousands of death threats. His crime? He posted on Twitter a series of mock conversations between himself and the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

“On your birthday I find you in front of me wherever I go,” he wrote in one tweet. “I love many things about you and hate others, and there are many things about you I don’t understand.”

Another reads: “No Saudi women will go to hell, because it’s impossible to go there twice.”

The tweets came to light last week around a celebration of Muhammad’s birthday, and Kashgari’s ordeal began. Hours before he was detained, Kashgari spoke to me by phone from the house in which he was hiding. “I was with sitting with my friends and one of them checked Twitter on his mobile phone,” he said. “Suddenly there were thousands of tweets of people calling to kill me because they said I’m against religion.”

Kashgari posted an apology tweet: “I deleted my previous tweets because after I consulted with a few brothers, I realized that they may have been offensive to the Prophet (pbuh) and I don’t want anyone to misunderstand,” he wrote. But the damage was done. As an electronic lynch mob formed, with users posting to a Twitter hashtag that translates as “Hamza Kashgari the dog,” the regime called for his arrest and trial.

Friends advised him to leave Saudi Arabia immediately. “I never expected this. It was a huge surprise. My friends are writers and bloggers and now their lives are in danger too,” he told me. “They fear what will happen to them. The government is trying to scare them and show that what is happening to me can happen to them sooner or later.”

Kashgari noted with sadness that many young Saudis are leaving their country in hopes of escaping the government's repressive policies. “It’s not logical that, if someone disagrees with the Saudi government, that he should be forced to leave the country. Many of those who have been arrested are fighting for simple rights that everyone should have — freedom of thought, expression, speech and religion.”

When we spoke Wednesday, Kashgari asked that I not reveal where he was hiding or his plan of escape. Now that he has been detained, his friends hope publicity will build pressure on the Malaysian government not to extradite Kashgari to Saudi Arabia. Karpal Singh, a well-known Malaysian lawyer and member of parliament, is being encouraged to take Kashgari’s case. Former Canadian justice minister Irwin Cotler has offered to serve as Kashgari’s international legal counsel. Cotler has served as legal counsel to such famous dissidents as Nelson Mandela, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Natan Sharansky and Maikel Nabil. Many have credited him with creating the international pressure that led to their release.

Kashgari encouraged Western nations to support human rights in his country and raise the names of activists under threat. “Pressure alone won’t be enough, but at least it will help people feel that they are not alone,” he said.

The young writer surmised that the threats against him were, in part, a result of the tens of millions of dollars the Saudi king allotted to the religious police last spring. Many Saudi dissidents have noted increased repression in the past few months and are terrified of the ascent of Crown Prince Naif, who has served as interior minister for decades.

The Saudi ambassador to the United Nations, Abdallah Y. Al-Mouallimi, told a packed audience at New York University this week that Saudi Arabia was a “land of opportunity” where there was no oppression of dissidents. I confronted the ambassador with lists of liberals, women and dissidents that had been arrested, beheaded and whipped. When questioned about Kashgari, Mouallimi replied that the journalist “has gone beyond the limits of what is acceptable in society.” His tweets were “not acceptable in a country like Saudi Arabia. This can never be acceptable,” the ambassador added.

“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to return to my homeland,” Kashgari told me hours before he was detained. Now, unfortunately, it looks as if he may returned against his will. If that happens, his fate is all but certain as a blasphemer’s guilt is preordained in the theocratic dictatorship of Saudi Arabia.

Threat of violence from Muslim activists forces literary festival to cancel talk with Rushdie

Published January 24, 2012
Associated Press

JAIPUR, India –  An Indian literary festival canceled a video conference with author Salman Rushdie days after he called off a personal appearance due to protests and threats.

Festival organizers decided to cancel the video address to avoid violence by Muslim activists gathered at the Jaipur Literary Festival, an organizer, Sanjoy Roy, said.

"We have been pushed to the wall. ... Earlier today, a number of organizations came to us and threatened violence," Roy said.

Rushdie said he called off his trip after police told him of a possible assassination threat. He planned a video conference instead, but Roy said the organizers had been threatened with violence if they went ahead with the video link.

Rushdie's works include the Booker Prize-winning "Midnight's Children" and "The Satanic Verses," which some Muslims consider blasphemous.

Scores of protesters crowded the tent where hundreds of festival participants had gathered for the video conference.

The controversy over Rushdie's attendance cast its shadow over the five-day festival, which was attended by tens of thousands of people who came to this city to see Oprah Winfrey and literary stars, such as Michael Ondaatje, Tom Stoppard and Tiger Mom Amy Chua.

EU official issues warning on Turkey's prosecution of author

Says issue could damage chances of joining union

The Boston Globe

By Colin Nickerson, Globe Staff

December 16, 2005

BERLIN -- The European Union official overseeing Turkey's admission to the 25-nation bloc warned yesterday that Turkey's prosecution of a bestselling author for insulting ''Turkishness" could damage the country's chances of joining the EU.

''It is not Orhan Pamuk who will stand trial, but Turkey," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in an unusually blunt statement released in Brussels. ''This is a litmus test of whether Turkey is seriously committed to freedom of expression and to reforms that enhance the rule of law."

Pamuk, 53, Turkey's best-known novelist, is expected to go on trial today for stating in a Swiss magazine interview what most historians regard as unassailable facts: That some 1 million Armenians were slaughtered by Turks in the 1915-1918 genocide and that thousands of ethnic Kurds have lost their lives in more recent civil strife in modern Turkey.

The case has stirred outrage across Europe, where there is deepening opposition to allowing Turkey -- whose population is largely Muslim and whose landmass lies almost entirely in Asia -- to join an economic and political confederation whose most basic membership requirement is a commitment to democracy and to such values as freedom of speech.

Membership is considered vital to Turkey's economic future. The admission process is expected to take years.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is among the European leaders opposed to granting admission to Turkey, partly because of the country's poor human rights record and wavering attitudes toward democratic principles, including the idea that citizens have a right to criticize the government and national institutions.

Such activist organizations as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have criticized Turkey for bringing criminal charges against Pamuk and dozens of other writers and scholars for allegedly defaming ''Turkishness and Turkish national institutions," usually for making public remarks about historical events considered strictly taboo.

The cases, brought by prosecutors, come even as the government in Ankara has proclaimed a greater dedication to individual freedoms in its effort to join the European Union.

''From the world-renowned poet Nazin Hikmet in the 1930s to Orhan Pamuk today, Turkish judges have prosecuted and imprisoned the country's greatest writers," Holly Cartner, director for Europe and Central Asia for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement from Istanbul. ''A Turkish judge has to make a truly strong declaration to prove those days are over."

But prosecutors appeared determined to press ahead with a high-profile prosecution despite the international uproar -- and despite the warnings from Europe. Rehn's statements marked the first time that the EU has unequivocally linked Turkey's hopes for EU membership to an attack on free speech that has drawn criticism across the Western world.

''The trial of a novelist who expressed a nonviolent opinion casts a shadow over the accession negotiations between Turkey and the EU," said Rehn, who is Finnish. ''Considering the number of recent prosecutions, it appears that [Turkey's] new penal code does not provide sufficient protection for freedom of expression."

Pamuk, author of such highly praised bestsellers as ''Snow" and ''My Name is Red," has had his works translated into 30 languages.

At least 60 other Turkish writers, scholars, and publishers presently face charges under Turkey's recently revised ''Article 301," according to Amnesty International. Among other things, the modified penal code makes it a criminal offense to criticize ''Turkishness," national institutions, or the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal -- known as ''Ataturk."

If convicted, Pamuk faces up to three years behind bars, although most analysts believe it extremely unlikely he will be imprisoned if found guilty in Sisly Primary Court No. 2 in Istanbul. But a guilty verdict -- even one accompanied by a paltry fine -- would send a shocking message to European nations watching closely as Turkey strives to modernize both its political system and its economy.

''Pamuk's conviction or a postponement of his trial would signal a serious reverse to recent reforms in Turkey," Cartner said.

Charges were brought against Pamuk after he angered Turkish nationalists, fundamentalist Muslims, and many ordinary Turks by saying in a February interview with Switzerland's Das Magazin weekly that ''thirty thousand Kurds and one million Armenians were killed in these lands."

Although few historians doubt that hundreds of thousands of Armenians were killed in Turkey, discussion of the topic remains largely off-limits in Turkey and the government denies that such a genocide occurred. The taboo was lifted slightly this year when Istanbul's Bilgi University hosted a cautious conference on the ''Armenian question" -- a gathering that triggered angry protests.

''What happened to the Ottoman Armenians in 1915 was a major thing that was hidden from the Turkish nation -- it was a taboo," Pamuk told the BBC. ''But we have to be able to talk about the past."

Pamuk's other allusion was to the killing of thousands of ethnic Kurds during clashes between Turkish armed forces and Kurdish insurgents in the 1980s and 1990s. The exact numbers of casualties remain unclear, and many Turkish civilians also died at the hands of avowed Kurdish ''freedom fighters," but there is no doubt many innocent lives were lost.

Many Turks, however, believe that Pamuk insulted the nation.

''He overstepped the mark," nationalist organizer Kemal Kerincsiz told Turkish reporters. ''Orhan Pamuk should not have played with history, and with the sentiments of Turks."