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Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari has been deported from Malaysia back to Saudi Arabia. The 23-year-old columnist had sparked outrage following controversial Twitter comments on the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed which were seen to be insulting.

The columnist had fled the oil-rich kingdom and was arrested in transit through Kuala Lumpur airport on Thursday. Malaysia and Saudi have close ties.

Some Islam clerics had called for him to face the death penalty. Blasphemy is a crime punishable by execution under Saudi Arabia’s strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law. It is not a capital crime in Malaysia.

Human rights groups have protested. Adding to the controversy is a claim his lawyer had obtained a court order preventing deportation, but had not been allowed to see his client.

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