By LIZ GOOCH
A Saudi journalist was deported Sunday to his home country, where he was expected to face arrest and possibly death for writing about the Prophet Muhammad.
The journalist, Hamza Kashgari, had been detained by the Malaysian policesince Thursday, when he was stopped at Kuala Lumpur International Airport at the request of the Saudi government. Mr. Kashgari, a newspaper columnist based in Jidda, had fled Saudi Arabia amid public outrage after he wrote about an imaginary meeting with the Prophet Muhammad in a series of posts on Twitter, according to news reports.
Human Rights Watch warned that Mr. Kashgari faced “almost certain conviction and a death sentence on charges of apostasy” if he was sent back to Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi king has reportedly called for his arrest, and many in the religiously conservative country have accused him of blasphemy, a capital offense in Saudi Arabia.
Muhammad Afiq Bin Mohamad Noor, the Malaysian lawyer hired by Mr. Kashgari’s family, said he obtained an interim court order from the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Sunday afternoon that would have prevented the authorities from deporting Mr. Kashgari. He only discovered later on Sunday, when he spoke to an immigration officer at the Kuala Lumpur airport, that Mr. Kashgari had already been deported on a private Saudi jet.
Mr. Muhammad Afiq said the immigration official in charge at the airport had told him that an immigration officer had accompanied Mr. Kashgari through the airport but that the immigration authorities had not been allowed to stamp his passport.
“There’s no record of him coming in and going out of Malaysia,” he said, adding that while Malaysia had no extradition treaty with Saudi Arabia, the authorities could use immigration laws to deport foreigners.
In a statement issued before Mr. Kashgari’s deportation, Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Saudi clerics had already made up their minds that Mr. Kashgari was an apostate who must face punishment. Mr. Wilcke had called on Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, not to be “complicit in sealing Kashgari’s fate by sending him back.”
“If Kashgari is not presumed innocent, he can hardly expect a fair trial if returned to Saudi Arabia,” Mr. Wilcke said.
Amnesty International, which has called Mr. Kashgari a “prisoner of conscience,” had called on the Saudi authorities to revoke the request for his arrest.
Hishammuddin Hussein, the Malaysian minister of home affairs, said in a statement on Sunday, “The nature of the charges against the individual in this case are a matter for the Saudi Arabian authorities.”
Mr. Muhammad Afiq said, “I just hope that the international pressure will continue so that the Saudi government will not persecute him for apostasy and blasphemy.”