KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia's government on Monday defended its decision to deport a young Saudi journalist who may face persecution at home for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad on Twitter.
International rights groups have slammed the deportation but Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Malaysia was not a safe haven for fugitives.
Jiddah-based newspaper columnist Hamza Kashgari, 23, was detained Thursday at the Malaysian airport while in transit to New Zealand. He was deported Sunday despite fears from rights groups that he may face the death penalty if charged with blasphemy over remarks he tweeted that many considered offensive.
"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," Hishammuddin said.
He said the deportation followed a request from the Saudi government. Allegations that Kashgari could be tortured and killed if he was sent back home are "ridiculous" because Saudi Arabia is a respectable country, he said.
Malaysian authorities also didn't receive any court order to halt the deportation, he added.
Lawyers representing Kashgari's family obtained a court order Sunday to try to keep him in Malaysia but he had been put on a plane back home by the time the order was issued.
Human Rights Watch slammed Malaysia's failure to respect human rights. It said Kashgari was kept incommunicado and denied access to lawyers and the U.N. refugee agency. Police also told lawyers that Kashgari was still being held after he already had been forced on a plane, it said.
"By its actions, the ministry of home affairs once again showed that it believes rule of law is whatever it says and that it is more than willing to be totally opaque in its operations to maintain its flexibility to do what it wants when it wants," said Phil Robertson, its Asia deputy director.
"If he (Kashgari) faces execution back in Saudi Arabia, the Malaysian government will have blood on its hands," he said.
Amnesty International has called Kashgari a "prisoner of conscience."