King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud on Monday ordered the arrest of a Saudi columnist "for crossing red lines and denigrating religious beliefs in God and His Prophet," the London-based Al Hayat daily reported.
Hamza Kashgari went into hiding following public and official outrage over tweets he made that were labeled "blasphemy" and "abuse of Prophet Mohammed."
Kashgari reportedly imagined a conversation with the Prophet in which he said they are equal, and that although he admires many of the Prophet’s characteristics, there are also others that he disliked
Kashgarai who later recanted and deleted his tweets, begged forgiveness. "My tweets were posted during a [difficult] psychological state. I erred and I pray to God that He will forgive me for what I did," he wrote.
"I declare my repentance and I distance myself fully from all the misleading ideas that had affected me and made me write expressions that I do not support. I bear witness that Mohammed is the messenger of God. I shall live and die firmly believing in it.
"I declare my repentance and I strongly adhere to the testimonies that there is no deity but Allah and that Mohammaed is the messenger of Allah," he wrote, Saudi news site Al Sabq reported on Tuesday.
Reports said that thousands of scholars, students and online users reacted angrily to his open "sacrilege" and filed cases against him calling for stringent legal action for heresy.
One of the religious leaders so incensed is a cleric named Nasser al-Omar, who appeared in a YouTube video weeping because he said he could not bear to see the Prophet insulted.
Al-Omar and others insist that even if Kashgari has repented he should still be sentenced for apostasy, effectively calling for his death by sword.
Saudi information minister Abdul Aziz Khowja has also ordered that Kashgari, who wrote for a Saudi daily, be banned from writing for any publication.
"When I read what he posted, I wept and got very angry that someone in the country of the Two Holy Mosques attack our Prophet in a manner that does not fit a Muslim address the best of men," the minister posted on his twitter account.
He also ensured Saudi news outlets did not reprint the tweets in articles covering the story.
Saudi Arabia uses a strict interpretation of Islamic Shari'a law in its jurisprudence that applies the death penalty to cases of armed robbery, drug trafficking, rape, murder, sorcery and witchcraft, and apostasy from Islam. Blasphemy generally carries penalties of hundreds of lashes - often rising to 500 or more – which can be fatal in of itself.
Observers say King Abdul Aziz’s arrest decree is a part and parcel of the ongoing war between individual freedoms and the deeply rooted religious sentiment in the ultraconservative Sunni kingdom.