Hamza Kashgari, who fled his native Saudi Arabia, has been sent back to face a possible death penalty. He left the country, intending to seek political asylum in New Zealand, after a series of tweets on the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday resulted in hundreds of death threats.
Kashgari was apprehended at the Kuala Lumpur airport Wednesday by the Malaysian authorities, at the request of Saudi Arabia, with whom Malaysia has no extradition treaty. Sunday morning, Saudi officials took custody of him at the airport and flew him back to Saudi Arabia in a private plane, according to a source close to the situation.
The deportation by Malaysia, whose official religion is Islam, was confirmed by the Malaysian police confirmed .
Kashgari’s tweets were identified as blasphemous by members of the country’s Wahhabist clerical establishment, including the “weeping cleric,” Nasser Al-Omar. Their supporters piled on, racking up 30,000 tweets of their own in the next 24 hours, most calling for his prosecution and execution.
Malaysian newspaper, The Star, reported that a High Court judge “granted an interim order to lawyers representing (Kashgari), to bar his deportation by Malaysian authorities.” It is uncertain whether the order was granted before or after Kashgari had left Malaysia. If after, it may have been a way to both assuage Saudi demands and public sentiment.
However Monday morning, Kashgari’s lawyers “have filed a habeas corpus application against the Home Minister, Inspector-General of Police and two others to get a declaration that his arrest and deportation were unlawful.”
Kashgari’s crimes have been defined by Wahhabi religious courts as “apostasy,” or rejection of Islam, which, in Saudi Arabia’s religiously conservative courts, is punishable by death.
Both defenders of Kashgari and Saudi watchers believe the event was stage-managed by the Wahhabi establishment as a way to regain political ground lost when the head of the Saudi religious police was replaced by a moderate.
Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein denied there was any court order delaying Kashgari’s deportation. He also called the notion that the Saudi writer would be executed “ridiculous,” the minister told a group of reporters on Saturday.
“This is a credible country that they are talking about, and allegations that ‘blood is in my hand’ and such for sending him back – were baseless,” Hussein said.
Given that Saudi religious law is clear about the punishment for apostasy – it is death – and given the country’s proven and persistent willingness to execute religious offenders, the fear seems far from ridiculous.
Justifying the return of the 23-year-old to Saudi hands, Hussein said, “The ministry will never let Malaysia to be perceived as a haven for terrorists, criminals and wanted person, who want to seek hiding.”
Given his return to his home country, one of Kashgari’s friends told us, “expect a very slow update since Saudi is an expert in media blackouts.”
Kuala Lumpur and Riyadh photos courtesy of Shutterstock.