A Saudi blogger wanted for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed on Twitter was returned to Saudi Arabia today where he faces the possibility of a death sentence.
Hamza Kashgari, 23, was enroute to New Zealand seeking asylum when he was detained in Kuala Lumpur by Malaysian security officials who said they didn't want their country to become a safe haven for fugitives.
Malaysia's Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told the Associated Press that he "will not allow Malaysia to be seen as a safe country for terrorists and those who are wanted by their countries of origin, and also be seen as a transit county."
Hishammuddin also claimed in a statement that "the nature of the charges against the individual in this case are a matter for the Saudi Arabian authorities."
Kashgari's offending tweets included a fictitious conversation with the Prophet Mohammed on his birthday last week eliciting more than 30,000 responses in less than 24 hours and several death threats. One of the tweets read "On your birthday, I will not bow to you. I won't kiss your hands. I will shake hands with you as an equal, and smile at you like you smile at me, and talk to you only as a friend, nothing more," he wrote.
The Saudi blogger deleted the controversial conversation from Twitter, but he continued to receive death threats and fled the country.
An official Saudi religious body declared him to be an apostate for his writings. Insulting the prophet is considered blasphemous in Islam and is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. For many in the Kingdom deleting the remarks was not enough and the religious conservatives demanded he be tried in a Sharia court.
One cleric appeared in a YouTube video weeping because he said he could not bear to see the Prophet insulted. Nasser al Omar said,"These people [like Kashgari] should be put to trial in Sharia courts. It is known that cursing God and his Prophet is apostasy. And the fact that he has repented with cold words will not probably save him in the court."
Al Omar and others insist that even if Kashgari has repented he should still be sentenced for apostasy, effectively calling for his death by sword. Al-Omar called on his followers to send telegraphs to the kng, crown prince and the grand mufti to punish Kashgari.
Numerous human rights groups have made pleas to not send Kashgari back to Saudi. Senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch Christoph Wilcke said, "Saudi clerics have already made up their up mind that Kashgari is an apostate who must face punishment." Wilcke also said, "The Malaysian government should not be complicit in sealing Kashgari's fate by sending him back."
Amnesty International has warned that Kashgari could be executed in Saudi Arabia if he is found guilty of apostasy. "If the Malaysian authorities hand over Hamza Kashgari to Saudi Arabia, they could end up complicit in any violations he suffers," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui of Amnesty's Middle East division.
Local rights group Lawyers for Liberty's Asia deputy director Phil Robertson said, "If he (Kashgari) faces execution back in Saudi Arabia, the Malaysian government will have blood on its hands."