Malaysia yesterday deported a young Saudi journalist who is wanted in his home country over a Twitter post about the Prophet Mohammed that sparked calls for his execution, an official said.
Hamza Kashgari, who was detained in Malaysia a week after fleeing Saudi Arabia, left the country in the custody of Saudi officials, a Malaysian government official said.
“He has been deported. He was picked up by Saudi officials at the airport,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Kashgari fled to Muslim-majority Malaysia after making comments on the microblogging site deemed insulting to the Prophet Mohammed, which outraged many.
Insulting the prophet is considered blasphemous in Islam and is a crime punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.
Malaysia’s government would not immediately confirm Kashgari’s deportation, but a Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs statement yesterday said he would be sent back to Saudi Arabia.
“Malaysia has a long-standing arrangement by which individuals wanted by one country are extradited when detained by the other, and [Kashgari] will be repatriated under this arrangement,” the statement said. “The nature of the charges against the individual in this case are a matter for the Saudi Arabian authorities.”
Kashgari’s deportation is certain to spark outrage from human rights groups. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had urged Malaysia not to send him back to face severe punishment and possibly a death sentence.
Malaysian human rights lawyer Edmond Bon expressed disappointment over Malaysia’s repatriation of the Saudi journalist amid death threats against him in his home country.
“It is disappointing that the Malaysian government had chosen to deport him to a potentially life-threatening punishment,” he said.
“Malaysia should have allowed him to seek asylum from the UN refugee agency to a country of his choice,” he added.
Human Rights Watch senior Middle East researcher Christoph Wilcke said on Saturday that Malaysia should not be “complicit in sealing Kashgari’s fate by sending him back,” where he would be unlikely to face a fair trial.
Malaysia and Saudi Arabia do not have a formal extradition treaty, but have close ties as fellow Muslim countries.
Rights groups have said Kashgari, who was detained on Thursday after flying into Malaysia, was en route to New Zealand.
His controversial tweet sparked tens of thousands of responses, according to an online service that tracks Twitter postings in the Arab world.
He tweeted: “I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you, and there is a lot I don’t understand about you. I will not pray for you.”
Kashgari apologized, but a committee of top clerics branded him an “infidel” and demanded he be tried in an Islamic court, while a Saudi Facebook page calling for his execution has attracted thousands of followers.