Telangana man arrested in Riyadh for 'blasphemous' FB post, family begs for safe return

Shankar allegedly superimposed a picture of the Buddha on the Kaaba, a sacred site in Islam.
Telangana man arrested in Riyadh for 'blasphemous' FB post, family begs for safe return
Telangana man arrested in Riyadh for 'blasphemous' FB post, family begs for safe return
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Rajender, from Telangana's Jagtial district, is a worried man.

It has been close to a month since the Saudi police arrested his immigrant brother Shankar Ponnam for allegedly disrespecting the “Kaaba”, a sacred site in Islam, in a Facebook post.

"We have been crying day and night. What can we do? We just want my younger brother back home and safe. We are approaching all the authorities we can," says Rajender.

On Monday, Shankar's mother approached the Jagtial collector A Sharath, and asked him to take up the case.

According to reports, 38-year-old Shankar, an agricultural engineer, allegedly superimposed an image of Buddha over Islam's holy site, something that the country takes seriously. Considered the most sacred place in Islam, the Kaaba is a black structure that is situated in the centre of al-Masjid-al-Haram or the Grand Mosque in Mecca, around which pilgrims pray. 

"He superimposed a picture of the Buddha on the Kaaba and posted on social media...the region's investigative department were able to capture and arrest a suspect...who works in agriculture, who insulted our holy site," a Riyadh police spokesman had said at the time.

Shankar posted the photo on November 12.

He was working on a farm in Tameer district of Al-Majmaah, when he was reportedly rounded up by the police on November 21.

"He was working there from 2012 to 2015 and he had come home last year for a few months. Again he left, and has been there for around one and a half years," says Shankar.

Following the Facebook post, it was reported that a group of locals beat up Shankar, filmed it and posted the video on social networking sites. 

According to the Times of India, the assailants can be seen beating Shankar up and attempting to extract a confession in the video, despite him saying that it was not his intention to hurt anyone.

"The authorities allow him to make phone calls to us occasionally, but he says that he has not been given a trial of any kind. He told us that they first put him in a small police station, and has since been taken to a prison," Shankar claims.

"He calls once in a week and he also cries. He says that he is scared and that no one is there for him. He says it very tough. We are also helpless, and we also break down every time he calls," he adds.

Besides his parents, Rajender says that Shankar also has a wife and two children back home in Jagtial, who are also concerned.

While the collector assured them that the Saudi authorities would be approached in an appropriate manner, Rajender can't help but worry about his brother.

"There is a sense of tragedy in our neighbourhood. Everyday people come and ask if there is any information on him. We feel like he might die there. We are helpless and need help. Only the authorities can help us now," Rajender says, as he breaks down.

IANS inputs

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