[JURIST] Malaysian officials confirmed Sunday that a Saudi reporter facing a possible death penalty charge in his country was handed over to Saudi officials for deportation. Malaysia national spokesman Ramli Yoosuf announced that Hamza Kashgari, 23, was flown back to Saudi Arabia [AP report] under a warrant for arrest issued Monday by Saudi authorities. A lawyer appointed by Kashgari’s family has stated that the move was unlawful because he had previously obtained a court order to block deportation. Kashgari faces charges of blasphemy, a crime punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. Kashgari was threatened with death penalty charges after making anti-Muhammad comments on Twitter on Muhammad’s birthday last Saturday. Kashgari has since deleted the Tweets and apologized, but that did not stop the public uproar against him. He was arrested upon his arrival [Reuters report] in Malaysia Thursday as part of an Interpol [official website] operation between Saudi and Malaysian police officials. Although the two countries have good relations, Malaysia does not have a specific agreement with Saudi Arabia that would have obligated Kashgari’s deportation.
Last month the UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] criticized Saudi Arabia for its increased use of the death penalty [JURIST report], which has tripled since 2010. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy websites] have also criticized the country for cruel punishment and lack of human rights protections [JURIST reports]. Malaysia has been recently criticized by the UN [JURIST report] for taking steps away from protecting its citizens’ rights to freedom of expression, although in Malaysia blasphemy is not punishable by death. Both AI and HRW [press releases] urged Malaysia not to deport Kashgari.