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Malaysia; Saudi Arabia: Journalist Deported to Face Blasphemy Charges

(Feb. 17, 2012) On February 9, 2012, the police in Malaysia detained a journalist from Saudi Arabia, Hamza Kashgari; on February 12 he was sent back to Saudi Arabia. Kashgari had landed at the international airport at Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, and the detention was pursuant to a request made through Interpol by the Saudi authorities. He had sent comments via Twitter concerning the Prophet Mohammed, stating, “I have loved things about you and I have hated things about you and there is a lot I don't understand about you. I will not pray for you.” (Romen Bose, Malaysian Police Detain Saudi Tweeter, AFP (Feb. 10, 2012); Kate Hodel, Malaysia Deports Saudi Journalist Accused of Insulting Prophet, THE GUARDIAN (Feb. 12, 2012).)

Malaysia and Saudi Arabia do not have an extradition treaty, but do have other bilateral agreements. According to the Malaysian government news agency, Bernama, the arrest was for “allegedly insulting Islam and the Prophet Mohammed.” (Id.) Blasphemy is punishable in Saudi Arabia with death, and although Kashgari has apologized for his tweet, there have been calls for his execution. A committee of Saudi clerics called for him to face trial, saying that he is “an apostate” and an “infidel.” (Id.)

Human rights groups have denounced the actions of Malaysia in sending Kashgari back to Saudi Arabia for prosecution. Christof Wilcke of Human Rights Watch argued that “Saudi clerics have already made up their up mind that Kashgari is an apostate who must face punishment.” He added that if there is no presumption of innocence, Kashgari “can hardly expect a fair trial if returned to Saudi Arabia. … Malaysia should save him from any travesties of justice and allow him to seek safety in a country of his choice.” (Malaysia: Don't Send Saudi Back, Human Rights Watch website (Feb. 10, 2012).)

In response to criticism of the deportation, Malaysia's Home Minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, said the move was legal and that he “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 [will not allow it to] be seen as a transit county.” (Malaysia Defends Deporting Saudi Journalist for Tweet, BBC NEWS ASIA (Feb. 13, 2012).) The Malaysian government also stated that the country has “a long-standing arrangement by which individuals wanted by one country are extradited when detained by the other[.] … The nature of the charges against the individual in this case are a matter for the Saudi Arabian authorities.” (Scott Griffen & Nisha Thanki, Malaysia Deports Saudi Journalist Wanted on Blasphemy Charges, International Press Institute website (Feb. 13, 2012).)