While many Islamists were reflecting on the anniversary of the Prophet Mohammad’s birth last week, at least one took to Twitter to express his thoughts on the spiritual icon – and these tweets led to calls for his execution and caused him to flee his country under fear of death.

In a series of tweets, writer Hamza Kashgari, 23, expressed his thoughts on Mohammad last week:

“On your birthday, I will say that I have loved the rebel in you, that you’ve always been a source of inspiration to me, and that I do not like the halos of divinity around you. I shall not pray for you.”

“On your birthday, I find you wherever I turn. I will say that I have loved aspects of you, hated others, and could not understand many more.”

“On your birthday, I shall not bow to you. I shall not kiss your hand. Rather, I shall shake it as equals do, and smile at you as you smile at me. I shall speak to you as a friend, no more.”

Over 30,000 responses were directed at Kashgari within 24 hours on Twitter, most of them denouncing his tweets and calling them blasphemous, some even calling for his death. And although he has since deleted the tweets and apologized, the damage has been done.

His home address was posted online, and The Daily Beast reports that some people came looking for him at his mosque.

His local paper was forced to remove his column by the Saudi information minister, and national outlets were barred from printing his work.

Influential clerics and leaders have also denounced Kashgari, some even calling for him to be tried in a Sharia court for apostasy, which is punishable by death.

The embattled writer had to flee his country into Southeast Asia not long ago.

The Daily Beast spoke with him in his first press interview after the tweets. He explained that although he did apologize, the battle for freedom of speech was not lost:

“I view my actions as part of a process toward freedom. I was demanding my right to practice the most basic human rights—freedom of expression and thought—so nothing was done in vain,” he says. “I believe I’m just a scapegoat for a larger conflict. There are a lot of people like me in Saudi Arabia who are fighting for their rights.”

(Top image: The Daily Beast)