Despite protests from international human rights groups, Hamza Kashgari, a Saudi blogger who sparked outrage among Islamists in the Middle East last week for his tweets about the prophet Muhammad, was deported back to his home country. The 23-year-old was arrested in Malaysia on Friday while seeking to fly to New Zealand for political asylum.
The Saudi government has yet to reveal is plans for Kashgari, but human rights groups worry that the liberal blogger will be tortured and potentially face the death penalty for blasphemy.
Kashgari originally fled Saudi Arabia after posting several presumably inflammatory tweets about the prophet Muhammad in the lead-up to the anniversary of the religious figure's birthday.
"On your birthday, I shall not bow to you," Kashgari wrote in one 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."
He quickly removed the tweets and issued a long apology but not before making himself a target for religious conservatives, many who began calling for his death. A Facebook page titled "Saudi people want punishment for Hamza Kashgari" now has more than 20,000 members.
In light of the apparent threat to Kashgari, human rights groups are speaking out against Malaysia's decision to return him to the Saudi government.
"The cold hard truth is that Malaysia has bent over backwards to please Saudi Arabia, breached international law by not allowing Hamza to seek asylum and instead handed him on a silver platter to his persecutors and condemned him to torture and near certain death," international human rights group Lawyers of Liberty said in a statement.
Nevertheless, the Malaysian government has defended its decision to return Kashgari home.
"I will not allow Malaysia to be seen as a safe country for terrorists and those who are wanted by their countries of origin, and also be seen as a transit county," Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was recorded as saying. He added that Saudi Arabia is a respectable country and that fears that Kashgari will face torture and capital punishment are "ridiculous."
Kashgari defended his tweets in an interview last week with the Daily Beast, noting that he was merely practicing his human rights to freedom of speech and expression. However, Saudi lawyer Sulaiman al-Jomaii said the blogger will need to repent in court if he hopes to avoid the death penalty.