Writer Hamza Kashgari Handed Over to Saudis for ‘Blasphemous’ Tweets

Hamza Kashgari could face the death penalty for his tweets. Mike Giglio says rights groups fear the worst.

Vincent Thian / AP Photo

Hamza Kashgari, the young Saudi writer who fled to Malaysia last week under threat of arrest for tweeting about the Prophet Muhammad, was deported this morning. He is likely to face charges for apostasy, which is punishable by death.

Malaysian authorities confirmed Sunday morning that Kashgari was handed over to Saudi authorities, who transported him back to Saudi Arabia on a private plane. The deportation came over objections from human-rights groups and a claim by Kashgari’s lawyer that he had obtained a court order blocking the deportation. “I expect Kashgari to be taken into custody in Saudi Arabia and put on trial,” says Christoph Wilcke, a senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Since Saudi government clerics have already condemned him as an apostate and called for his execution, it is highly improbable he can have a fair hearing.”

Kashgari caused a firestorm recently for tweets that religious scholars have decried as insulting to the Prophet Muhammad. In the Twitter reflections, Hamza told the prophet, “I have loved the rebel in you,” but “I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.” He also wrote, “I shall shake [your hand] as equals do … I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.”

The Saudi Twitter-sphere exploded with responses to Kashgari, with commentators accusing him of blasphemy and many calling for his death. Kashgari issued an apology and removed the tweets, but vigilantes began trying to hunt him down in real life, according to friends, and a series of increasingly powerful religious leaders condemned the young writer and called for him to be tried for blasphemy. The Saudi Arabian media also reported that the king had issued an arrest warrant for Kashgari.

The threats spurred Kashgari to flee to Malaysia, and friends told The Daily Beast he planned to fly from there to New Zealand and seek asylum. Speaking from Malaysia before the planned flight, Kashgari said he never expected such an explosive reaction to his tweets and was stunned by the turn of events. He was clearly unnerved. “I’m afraid, and I don’t know where to go,” he said.

As he tried to board a morning flight to New Zealand, Kashgari was detained by Malaysian authorities. A friend of Kashgari’s, who asked to remain anonymous, was at the airport with Kashgari and witnessed his arrest. “We were just watching him, waiting for him to pass the immigration checkpoint. Once he submitted his passport, they asked him to step away for a few minutes,” the friend said, noticeably shaken by the incident. “And suddenly these two people without uniforms just arrested him.”

Rights groups had urged the Malaysian government to release Kashgari, but the BBC reported Sunday morning that the country’s home ministry had issued a statement saying that “the nature of the charges against the individual in this case are a matter for the Saudi Arabian authorities.”

Amnesty International has issued a statement saying that Kashgari should be considered a prisoner of conscience.