Last week, an atheist activist named Zara Kay was arrested in Tanzania on allegations of blasphemy. She wasn’t told that at first. She was held in police custody for 32 hours without any clear indication of the charges against her.
The concern is that she didn’t actually do anything wrong but that she was arrested because of who she is: Kay, an Australian who was born and raised in Tanzania, is an ex-Muslim who founded the group Faithless Hijabi and helps women leave the faith.
That may be why she was arrested. The main charge is that she apparently criticized the Tanzanian president John Magufuli earlier this year for his (mis)handling of the coronavirus. Kay says those were satirical posts, but even if they were legitimate points, criticism of a public figure like that should never be an illegal offense. Blasphemy is always a victimless crime.
The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims also says Kay was charged with never returning her Tanzanian passport when she moved to Australia (she said she misplaced it but never tried to use it) and using a SIM card that wasn’t registered in her name (she said it was a family member’s).
The group said it believes those charges are “politically motivated” and used against her by an Islamic community opposed to her leaving the faith and helping other women do the same.
While various atheist groups publicized her arrest, one that I spoke with (and trust) said last week that they were in contact with her legal team and family but were not going to take further action without consent from her side. That consent never came. Not because she couldn’t be contacted, but because there wasn’t necessarily anything anyone needed to do just yet.
The good news is that she was released on bail a few days later.
On behalf of Zara:
I'm out on bail, thank you all for the support. I'm still quite traumatised from everything. Please don't stop fighting for me.
They can try shaking me, but they won't break me. #JusticeForZaraKayhttps://t.co/B6OHtAmJZn
— Zara Kay �� (@zarakayk) December 31, 2020
One condition of her bail is that her Australian passport was revoked. Kay is scheduled to return to the police station with her lawyer on Tuesday.
The Australian government is aware of the problem and issued a statement that both acknowledges the situation without spelling out any actual details.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on Sunday it was “providing consular assistance to an Australian in Tanzania”. But a spokesperson said Dfat would not provide further comment “owing to our privacy obligations”.
As for what you can do to help, the International Coalition of Ex-Muslims makes this appeal:
We also call on the public to continue to take urgent action by contacting Tanzanian embassies in countries of residence and the Tanzanian government calling for all charges against Zara Kay to be dropped and that she be permitted to leave the country.
Please also contact Australian embassies in countries of residence urging them to immediately intervene on behalf of Zara and get her home safe.
They have a list of contacts on their website.
(Screenshot via YouTube. Thanks to Bob for the link)