On the fateful day of June 7, 2018, a 28-year-old Indian man named Vishnu Dev Radhakrishnan was arrested by the police in Saudi Arabia on charges of blasphemy. Vishnu Dev, a native of Alappuzha in Kerala, had been residing in the Gulf nation for 6 years then. He was working at Saudi Aramco’s subsidiary, Nasser S Al-Hajri Corporation, as an engineer.
And then he became the first Indian to be tried under the draconian blasphemy laws of Saudi Arabia. In a tweet posted on Monday, Vishnu’s father and a retired Indian Air Force officer Radhakrishnan Nair V wrote, “Tomorrow is the day remembered with utter sadness and worry, the day my innocent son was arrested by the Saudi police on 8 .6. 18 and since then I and wife along with his younger sister are praying for his release.#savevishnudev.”
Tomorrow is the day remembered with utter sadness and worry,the day my innocent son was arrested by the Saudi police on 8 .6. 18 and since then Me and wife along with his younger sister is praying for his release.#savevishnudev @PMOIndia @MOS_MEA @vijayanpinarayi @ShashiTharoor pic.twitter.com/zyPjw9N6Ck— Radhakrishnan Nair.V (@rkpoickad) June 7, 2021
The background of the Case
In 2018, Vishnu Dev had befriended a Muslim girl on the micro-blogging platform on Twitter. She was a resident of London in the United Kingdom. During their conversation on Twitter, the Muslim girl made objectionable remarks against Lord Shiva. An enraged Vishnu Dev then tweeted against Prophet Muhammad. He also asked as to why schools in Yemen were bombed if Allah was merciful. Given that bombings in Yemen were conducted on the behest of the Saudi regime, the government clamped down on him hard.
Vishnu Dev’s father recounted, “The tweets went through Aramco’s server. Vishnu told me that the officials at Aramco might have taken the screenshots of his conversation with the woman and given it to the police.” About 15 days before his arrest, the Indian man was quizzed by the security officials at Aramco. The company officials had detained him at the office for 15 days and said that he would be deported back to India. Instead of letting him contact the Indian embassy, Vishnu Dev was handed over to the police.
On June 7, 2018, he was arrested by the police on the grounds of ‘misusing social media’ and for hurting the religious and national sentiments of the Gulf nation (for his remarks on Prophet Muhammad). On September 13 that year, he was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment in Khobar jail and penalised a sum of 1,50,000 Riyal (₹29.12 lacs). Later on January 24, 2019, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison and an additional penalty.
Vishnu Dev escaped beheading due to his Indian nationality
While speaking about his case, a Malayali social organisation Navayugam informed that Vishnu Dev was fortunate to escape beheading and other draconian forms of punishment due to his nationality. “Any posts against their religion is a big crime in Saudi Arabia. While the lower court gave him five years imprisonment, the prosecution went for an appeal at the higher court, stating that the punishment is less. So after the trial in the higher court, his sentence was increased to 10 years,” a member of the organisation said.
He further added, “His company did not take any responsibility for his actions. Also, the Indian Embassy ignored his case and did not give him any help. As per Saudi Law, he has to spend 10 years in prison, pay the fine and then they will deport him to India.” The ex-Indian Airforce officer lamented how he failed to ensure his son’s return to India. He informed that he had reached out to the Indian embassy in Saudi Arabia, late Sushma Swaraj, and even Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.
Blasphemy accused Indian man turned down offers to convert to Islam
According to Radhakrishnan, some Indian Muslims took screenshots of Vishnu Dev’s tweets and complained about him to the Saudi authorities. Interestingly, he informed that prisoners from Kerala lodged in the same jail had tried to proselytise and convert him to Islam. “Some Malayali Muslims tried to convert him to Islam. They told him that if he does so, his sentence might be reduced. But my son is mentally strong. He told them he would rather serve 10 years than change his religion,” he emphasised.
Retired IAF officer runs pillar to post for his son’s repatriation
Despite hundreds of emails, and tweets, Vishnu Dev’s case did not move forward. ‘Although the Indian Embassy said a social worker in Dammam is in constant touch with my son, there have been no productive measures yet. Even after the recent sentencing, there has been no response from them,” Radhakrishnan said. He added that his son did not deny the charges and had apologised for the same.
“He told me that he made a mistake and tweeted those lines as a retaliation to the woman’s statements, which abused his god. He said that he apologises to all Muslims in the world for his mistake…Anybody in our neighbourhood in Kerala would vouch for my son. Even if I raise my voice against someone, he would not like it. That is Vishnu Dev. This arrest will affect his sister’s future alliances for marriage,” Radhakrishnan concluded. It has been exactly 3 years since the fateful day and there are still no signs of justice.