Updated Feb. 10:
Malaysian police arrested Kashgari Friday as he tried to fly to New Zealand seeking political asylum. It is unclear whether he will be returned to Saudi Arabia to face charge.
Islamists in Saudi Arabia are calling for the execution of a 23-year-old blogger who decided to share his feelings about the prophet Muhammad on Twitter shortly before the anniversary of the prophet's birthday.
"On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more," Hamza Kashgari tweeted.
"On your birthday, I shall not bow to you," Kashgari wrote in a separate tweet. "I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more."
Despite removing the tweets and issuing a long apology, the damage was already done. Angry Saudis accused Kashgari of blasphemy and called for his death; an influential cleric urged that Kashgari be tried in Sharia court for apostasy, which is a capital offense; and even the king himself issued a warrant for Kashgari's arrest. Someone even went so far as to post the blogger's home address on YouTube.
The scandal is unlike anything seen before in Saudi Arabian history. Fouad al-Farhan, a prominent liberal and Saudi Arabia's most influential blogger, said Kashgari struck a tone with his tweets that even Saudi liberals steer clear of.
"There was an amazing anger. I've never seen anything like it in my life," al-Farhan said. "I think it's because this is an extremely unique case…We've never had a case as extreme as this one of someone crossing the line."
Kashgari, who was raised a religious conservative in a Salafi community, grew more liberal as he got older and became more active on the web. He also apparently drew the attention of conservative activists, who began to monitor him as his social media feeds became more controversial.
"Most people feel strongly about the situation. But at the same time, I feel that conservatives are trying to take advantage of the situation, make an example out of him, and show their strength," Ahmed al Omran, who runs the blog Saudi Jeans, said.
Kashgari agrees that he's become a "scapegoat for a larger conflict."
"I view my actions as part of a process toward freedom," he told The Daily Beast in an interview. "I was demanding my right to practice the most basic human rights—freedom of expression and thought—so nothing was done in vain."
Nevertheless, the uproar over his tweets led Kashgari to flee to Southeast Asia and he has accepted the fact that he can never return home.
"It's impossible. No way," he said. "I'm afraid, and I don't know where to go."