Malaysia Detains Saudi Over Twitter Posts on Prophet
Malaysian police detained the writer, Hamza Kashgari, a 23-year-old columnist for the Jeddah-based Al-Bilad newspaper, when he arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Thursday, Hishammuddin Hussein, the Malaysian Minister of Home Affairs, said in a statement.
“The police have contacted their counterpart in Saudi Arabia to determine the next course of action,” Mr. Hussein said.
Rights groups have expressed concern about Mr. Kashgari’s safety after religious conservatives in Saudi Arabia called for him to be arrested and executed after he directly addressed the Prophet Muhammad in a series of posts on Twitter.
Mr. Kashgari’s tweets incited outrage in the conservative Islamic country, where many regarded them as blasphemous, and reportedly prompted the king to call for his arrest. Blasphemy is a crime punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.
More than 13,000 people have joined a Facebook page titled “The Saudi People Demand the Execution of Hamza Kashgari.”
According to The Daily Beast, a friend of Mr. Kashgari, who asked not to be named, accompanied him to the airport and witnessed his detention.
“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 Daily Beast quoted the friend as saying. “And suddenly these two people without uniforms just arrested him.”
An official from Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who wished to remain anonymous due the sensitivity of the case, said Mr. Kashgari would likely be repatriated to Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Kashgari would be sent back “because he is on the watch list of Saudi Arabia,” the official said.
Some reports have suggested that Mr. Kashgari wanted to seek asylum abroad. But the foreign affairs official said Malaysia does not grant asylum out of respect for the laws of other countries. “It’s not our practice to grant political asylum,” the official said, adding that the ministry had contacted the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
The official said Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country, had good diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi Arabian Embassy did not respond to efforts to seek comment on Friday.
Amnesty International called for Malaysia not to deport Mr. Kashgari, to immediately disclose where he is being held and to grant him access to a lawyer. “We are calling on the Malaysian government to stop any deportation proceedings they may have started,” said Cilina Nasser, a London-based researcher with Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the death threats made against Mr. Kashgari, who issued an apology before fleeing his home country.
In his Twitter posts, which he has since deleted, Mr. Kashgari wrote to the Prophet. “I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don’t understand about you,” he wrote in one post, according to a translation published by Agence France-Presse. “I will not pray for you.”
Liz Gooch reported from Kuala Lumpur and J. David Goodman from New York.