Minister says Malaysia is not a safe haven for fugitives, after criticism over treatment of journalist accused of insulting prophet
The Malaysian government has defended its decision to deport a Saudi journalist who may face persecution at home for allegedly insulting the prophet Muhammad on Twitter.
Human rights groups have criticised the deportation of Hamza Kashgari but the home minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said Malaysia was not a safe haven for fugitives.
Kashgari, 23, a newspaper columnist, was detained on Thursday at Kuala Lumpur airport while in transit to New Zealand. He was deported on Sunday despite fears from rights groups that he may face the death penalty if charged with blasphemy.
Hishammuddin said: “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.”
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 were “ridiculous” because Saudi Arabia was a respectable country, he said.
Hishammuddin said Malaysian authorities had not received any court order to halt the deportation. Lawyers representing Kashgari’s family obtained a court order on 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 said Kashgari was kept incommunicado and denied access to lawyers and the UN refugee agency. Police told lawyers that Kashgari was still being held after he had already been forced on to 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, HRW’s Asia deputy director.
“If he [Kashgari] faces execution back in Saudi Arabia, the Malaysian government will have blood on its hands,” he said.
The local group Lawyers for Liberty said Kashgari arrived in Malaysia on 7 February from Jordan and was leaving the country two days later to New Zealand to seek asylum when he was detained.
“The cold hard truth is that Malaysia has bent over backwards to please Saudi Arabia, breached international law by not allowing [Kashgari] to seek asylum and instead handed him on a silver platter to his persecutors,” it said.
Amnesty International has called Kashgari a “prisoner of conscience”.