KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia on Sunday deported a young Saudi journalist wanted in his home country over a Twitter post about the Prophet Mohammed, defying pleas from human rights group who said he faced execution.
Hamza Kashgari, who was detained in Malaysia on Thursday after fleeing Saudi Arabia, has now left the country, national police spokesman Ramli Yoosuf said.
"He was deported to Saudi Arabia," Ramli told AFP. A government offical said Kashgari was escorted back to his home country by Saudi officials.
"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 triggered outrage and death threats.
Insulting the prophet is considered blasphemous in Islam and is a crime punishable by execution in Saudi Arabia.
Kashgari’s detention sparked outrage from human rights groups, with Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch urging Malaysia not to send him back to face severe punishment and possibly a death sentence.
Malaysian rights activist Fadiah Nadwa Fikri condemned the move, saying that a court order to prevent Kashgari’s deportation was secured Sunday but that immigration authorities advised he had already been deported.
"It is a blatant violation of the law and human rights," she said.
Fadiah said Kashgari’s mother and brother had arrived in Malaysia to seek his release and were distraught at the news of his repatriation.
"They are very distressed. They broke down in tears. They fear for his safety," she said, adding that they will also return to Saudi Arabia Sunday.
Fadiah said Kashgari had been intending to travel to New Zealand where he planned to seek asylum. He flew to Malaysia via Jordan and was in transit when he was detained.
"He flew to Malaysia because there was no visa requirement," she said.
Malaysia and Saudi Arabia do not have a formal extradition treaty but have close ties as fellow Muslim countries.
The home ministry defended its stance earlier Sunday.
"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," it said in a statement.
"The nature of the charges against the individual in this case are a matter for the Saudi Arabian authorities."
Human Rights Watch senior Middle East researcher Christoph Wilcke had said 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.
Kashgari’s 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 apologised 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.