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Blogger faces charges of blasphemy, apostasy after Mohammed tweets

Saudi blogger Hamza Kashgari may face the death penalty for tweets he sent out about the Prophet Mohammed
Saudi blogger Hamza Kashgari may face the death penalty for tweets he sent out about the Prophet Mohammed

A Saudi blogger whose tweets about the Prophet Mohammed were deemed blasphemous and tantamount to apostasy has been deported from Malaysia back to Saudi Arabia, where he is certain to face trial and possibly the death penalty, report Malaysia's Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Human Rights Watch and other IFEX members.

Hamza Kashgari, 23, fled Saudi Arabia on 6 February in hopes of finding political asylum after his tweets sparked an official publishing ban and order for his arrest, as well as a Twitter lynch mob that called for his death, report the members.

Kashgari was on his way to another country - reportedly New Zealand - when security officials arrested him at Kuala Lumpur airport on 9 February, his lawyer, Muhammad Afiq Muhammad Noor, told Human Rights Watch. He was detained for several days and deported to Saudi Arabia on Sunday.

"Malaysia had no business deporting Kashgari, and Saudi Arabia has no business prosecuting him for his tweets expressing his religious opinion, which it is his right to do freely," said Human Rights Watch. "It is near certain he will not get a fair trial in Saudi Arabia, where religious scholars have concluded that he is guilty of apostasy and should be put to death."

The journalist, who wrote for the daily paper "Al-Bilad", used the occasion of the Prophet Mohammed's birthday to send out three tweets. One of them read, "I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don't understand about you," reports the International Press Institute (IPI).

Kashgari is also said to have tweeted that he would no longer pray for the Prophet Mohammed and would greet him "as a friend, no more," says IPI.

His tweets resulted in a barrage of more than 30,000 tweets condemning Kashgari for blasphemy and apostasy, which refers to the renunciation or abandonment of faith, and calls for his execution.

CIJ and other local human rights groups had put pressure on the Malaysian government, which has close ties to the Saudi kingdom but no formal extradition treaty, to resist any demands to deport the Saudi blogger. "He should be released if there is no legal basis to arrest or extradite him," said CIJ in a statement at the time. "At the very least, the Malaysian authorities have an obligation to ensure Mr. Kashgari's safety."

Malaysia's Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters that Kashgari had been arrested following a request from Saudi Arabia, and that Malaysia was not to be used as a "safe haven" or "safe transit country" for those involved in "transnational crime" and wanted by their country of origin.

Malaysian human rights groups said they had secured a court injunction preventing Kashgari's deportation but that Kashgari was already on his way back to Saudi Arabia. The Malaysian government denies that it had any knowledge that an injunction was filed.

"The Malaysian government really botched this case, which has unfortunate consequences on Kashgari," said CIJ, which is currently working with local legal groups on a joint action.

Saudi media reported that Kashgari had been taken into custody after arriving in Saudi Arabia on Sunday night and that he would likely faces charges of blasphemy in spite of Kashgari having apologised, removed the tweets and deleted his account.

According to CIJ, Kashgari's lawyers indicated that calls for his execution could be politically motivated because of his blog postings in support of fellow activists in Syria and public support for the Arab Spring protests.

Kashgari too believed the campaign against him was politically motivated, and worries that it will be used to carry out a wider crackdown. "I never expected this. It was a huge surprise. My friends are writers and bloggers and now their lives are in danger too," Kashgari said to "The Washington Post" before he was detained in Malaysia.

"They fear what will happen to them. The government is trying to scare them and show that what is happening to me can happen to them sooner or later," Kashgari added.

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