|Many of Saudi Arabia’s top clerics are demanding Kashgari go on trial after denouncing him as an ‘apostate’ [AFP]
Malaysia has deported a young Saudi journalist who is wanted in his home country over Twitter posts about the Prophet Muhammad that led to calls for his execution, the Malaysian government has confirmed.
Hamza Kashgari, who was detained in Malaysia on Thursday while en route to New Zealand through Kuala Lumpur, left the country in the custody of Saudi officials on Sunday, a statement of the Malaysian home ministry said.
Kashgari, a 23-year-old Jeddah-based newspaper columnist, fled his home country after making comments on the microblogging site deemed insulting to the Prophet Muhammad, which fuelled a surge of outrage in the kingdom.
|Kashgari apologised for his comments and said he was being made a “scapegoat for a larger conflict”
Insulting the prophet is considered blasphemous in Islam and is a crime punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.
The home ministry statement said: “Malaysia has a long-standing arrangement by which individuals wanted by one country are extradited when detained by the other, and Mohammad Najeeb A. [Hamza] Kashgari will be repatriated under this arrangement.
“The nature of the charges against the individual in this case are a matter for the Saudi Arabian authorities.”
Muhammad Afiq Mohamad Nor, a lawyer appointed by Kashgari’s family, said the decision was unlawful because he had obtained a court order to block the deportation.
“We are concerned that he would not face a fair trial back home and that he could face the death penalty if he is charged with apostasy, the lawyer told the Associated Press news agency.
Clerics and locals in the kingdom have called for Kashgari’s death for three comments he made on Twitter on the occasion of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.
All three tweets were later deleted by Kashgari, who received more than 30,000 responses within a day of the postings.
Kashgari, who had originally apologised for his comments, said in an interview he was being made a “scapegoat for a larger conflict” over his comments.
Abdullah al-Alami, an activist and writer from Saudi Arabia told Al Jazeera that while punishments as harsh as the death penalty may not be warranted in this case, Kashgari should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law in Saudi courts.
“We all agree that what he has done is absolutely wrong. He did tweet certain doubts about the prophet, which is blasphemous,” Alami said, speaking from Jeddah.
“We have to remember that we don’t want to have another Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses on our hands.”
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had urged Malaysia not to send Kashgari back to face severe punishment and possibly a death sentence.
Malaysian human rights lawyer Edmond Bon expressed disappointment over Malaysia’s action.
“It is disappointing that the Malaysian government had chosen to deport him to a potentially life-threatening punishment,” he told AFP.
“Malaysia should have allowed him to seek asylum from the UN refugee agency to a country of his choice.”
Christoph Wilcke, Human Rights Watch’s senior Middle East researcher, said on Saturday that Malaysia should not be “complicit in sealing Kashgari’s fate by sending him back”.
“Saudi clerics have already made up their mind that Kashgari is an apostate who must face punishment,” he said.