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Faces Likely Death Sentence for Twitter Post

(Washington, DC, February 10, 2012) – The Malaysian authorities should not send a Saudi citizen back to Saudi Arabia to face almost certain conviction and a death sentence on charges of apostasy, Human Rights Watch said today.

Hamza Kashgari fled Saudi Arabia to Malaysia on February 7, 2012, after a storm of outrage erupted over a fictitious conversation between him and the Prophet Muhammad that Kashgari published on his Twitter account. On February 8, an official Saudi religious body declared him to be an apostate for his writings. The body sets out authoritative Islamic law interpretations and although the clerics called for his trial, they also predetermined its outcome.

“Saudi clerics have already made up their up mind that Kashgari is an apostate who must face punishment,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Malaysian government should not be complicit in sealing Kashgari’s fate by sending him back.”

Kashgari was on his way to another country when security officials arrested him at Kuala Lumpur airport on February 9, his lawyer, Muhammad Afiq Muhammad Noor, told Human Rights Watch. A friend of Kashgari said he is being held at the Travel Control section in the Bukit Amin neighborhood.

The lawyer said that the police inspector general and the Home Affairs Ministry acknowledged receiving his documents seeking access to his client, but that they had not yet granted permission. The home affairs minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, on February 10, acknowledged that the authorities were holding Kashgari. The friend also said that officials for the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, have sought access to Kashgari but so far without success.

Malaysia does not have criminal apostasy laws and Kashgari has not violated Malaysian law, the lawyer said. He questioned the legality of Kashgari’s detention and any attempt to extradite him to Saudi Arabia. Malaysia and Saudi Arabia do not have an extradition treaty, Malaysian lawyers said, but it appears that Kashgari is being held based on a request from Saudi Arabia, which issued an arrest warrant for him.

Saudi Arabia does not have written criminal laws. Apostasy is not a clearly defined criminal offense, but it is one of about six so-called crimes against God (hadd, plural hudud) for which the Quran sets out specified punishments, including the death penalty. Saudi Arabia has sentenced and executed people for this offense.

In a separate case, on February 7, the government released Hadi Al Mutif, a member of the Ismaili religious minority in Najran, a southern province bordering Yemen, after he expressed remorse to chief mufti Abd al-‘Aziz Al al-Shaikh over alleged insults to the Prophet Muhammad.

Al Mutif was arrested in late 1993 and sentenced to death for apostasy in 1996 after a patently unfair trial and remained under the death sentence until his release. Al Mutif told Human Rights Watch in 2006 that secret police beat him and deprived him of sleep during interrogation and that at trial, a witness physically assaulted him.

“If Kashgari is not presumed innocent, he can hardly expect a fair trial if returned to Saudi Arabia,” Wilcke said. “Malaysia should save him from any travesties of justice and allow him to seek safety in a country of his choice.”

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