An Australian ex-Muslim women’s rights activist faces “politically motivated” charges in Tanzania, including for a tweet allegedly critical of the country’s president, according to her supporters.
The Australian government is providing consular assistance to Zara Kay, 28, the founder of Faithless Hijabi, a group set up two years ago to support women who are ostracized or face violence if they leave or question Islam.
Kay wrote on Twitter on Monday last week that she was “going into the police station because someone reported me in for blasphemy.”
She told her supporters a few days later that she was out on bail, but “still quite traumatized from everything.”
“Please don’t stop fighting for me,” she wrote. “They can try shaking me, but they won’t break me.”
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) yesterday said that it was “providing consular assistance to an Australian in Tanzania.”
However, a spokesperson said DFAT would not provide further comment “owing to our privacy obligations.”
The case was first reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corp yesterday.
The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims issued a statement saying Kay had been held in police custody for 32 hours from Monday last week “without an initial clear indication of charges” and had her passport confiscated.
It said she would be required to return the police station in Dar es Salaam, the administrative capital, tomorrow.
According to the statement, the charges relate to three issues, including “a social media post deemed to be critical of the president of Tanzania” over the handling of COVID-19 in the east African country.
The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims said Kay was also accused of not returning her Tanzanian passport after gaining Australian citizenship, but added that “she never returned her Tanzanian passport as she misplaced and never used it after gaining Australian citizenship.”
The coalition said the final issue was the use of a mobile SIM card registered in a family member’s name rather than her own name, under legislation that the group said “has been used to persecute other high-profile cases.”
“We believe these charges are politically motivated,” the coalition said.
“The International Coalition of Ex-Muslims reiterates its call on the Tanzanian government to immediately drop all the charges against Zara Kay and allow her to leave the country … We also call on the Australian authorities to intervene and get Zara home to safety,” it said.
Kay, who was raised a Shiite Muslim in Tanzania, told the Australian newspaper in 2019 that she had been forced to wear the hijab from the age of eight, but took it off when she moved to Australia to study in her late teens.
She has renounced Islam and campaigns to help people who struggle when they similarly leave the faith.
Kay has held speaking events in Australia on the topic: “Losing your religion can be hard, and for some, it can be fatal.”
Christians comprise about 61 percent of Tanzania’s population of 59 million people, while Muslims represent about 35 percent, according to past estimates.
The nation does not have blasphemy laws.
The Australian reports that Kay faces sedition charges.
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