x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Malaysia deports Saudi journalist accused of blasphemy on Twitter

Malaysian authorities deport Hamza Kashgari, a Jeddah-based newspaper columnist, who is accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed on Twitter.

KUALA LUMPUR // Malaysian authorities have deported a Saudi journalist accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed on Twitter, a police official said. The move came despite concerns from rights groups that he may be persecuted at home.

Hamza Kashgari, a Jeddah-based newspaper columnist, was detained on Thursday upon his arrival in Malaysia. Some Saudis have reportedly made death threats against him or called for him to face criminal charges over remarks he tweeted that many considered offensive.

Mr Kashgari, 23, reportedly posted the comments on his Twitter feed to mark the Prophet Mohammed's birthday, drawing thousands of outraged comments on Twitter and other social networking sites.

His comments cannot by verified as he later deleted them.

Ramli Yoosuf, the Malaysian national police spokesman, said that the journalist was handed over to Saudi officials and flown back this morning. Flight arrangements were handled by the Saudi authorities, he said, adding he could not give further details.

Hishammuddin Hussein, the home minister, said in a statement that any charges against Mr Kashgari were "a matter for the Saudi Arabian authorities".

Blasphemy is a crime punishable by execution under Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Sharia. It is not a capital crime in Malaysia.

Mohammed Afiq Mohammed Noor, a lawyer appointed by Mr Kashgari's family, said the move was unlawful because he had obtained a court order to block the deportation. He said he has not been informed by police and was still verifying if the Saudi had indeed been sent back.

"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 said.

Amnesty International has called Mr Kashgari a "prisoner of conscience" and called for his release.

Human Rights Watch said Saudi clerics have condemned Mr Kashgari as an apostate who must face punishment.

The rights group had urged Malaysia to allow him to seek asylum.