Famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins called Islam a "pathetic religion" after a government leader in Malaysia said atheists should be "hunted down" as they violate the constitution in the Muslim-majority nation.
"What a pathetic religion, how ignominious to need this kind of protection!" "The God Delusion" author tweeted, linking to an Independent article about how Shahidan Kassim, who serves in the Malaysian Prime Minister's inner circle, called on Islamic leaders to convert atheists to their religion.
"The [Federal Constitution] does not mention atheists. It goes against the Constitution and human rights," the Independent quotes Mr Kassim as saying during a press conference. "I suggest that we hunt them down vehemently and we ask for help to identify these groups."
He added that atheists were "misled" and claimed they "don't want to be atheists but it happens because of the lack of religious education".
Mr Kassim called on "all muftis [Muslim religious scholars]" to "return them to the faith".
The outlet notes that Malaysian states, which have their own laws governing Islamic affairs, do not allow Muslims to formally renounce Islam. Instead, atheists are often fined, sent to counseling, or jailed.
The South China Morning Post reports that the Islamic Affairs Department is reported to have said that state religious departments can take action against any Muslims suspected of apostasy depending on where the "crime" takes place.
Christians - who make up just 9.2 percent of Malaysia's population - also face similar restrictions, and living as a Christian in the country can carry severe risks and suffering. In 2007, Lina Joy, a Malaysian convert to Christianity, lost a high-profile legal battle to have the word "Islam" removed from her identity card.
After a three-year legal battle, a Malaysian court ruled last year that 41-year-old Rooney Rebit, formerly known as Azmi Mohamad Azam Shah, could be identified as a Christian. Rebit was "converted to Islam" by his parents at the age of 10.
Dawkins frequently criticizes Muslim leaders for using Islam to legitimize violations of human rights and even dubbed Islam "the most evil religion in the world." Earlier this year, he was pulled from a planned appearance at a public radio station in Berkeley, Calif., over his frequent and unapologetic condemnations of the religion.
He also admitted that, "Christianity may actually be our best defense against aberrant forms of religion that threaten the world."
"There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings. I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers," he famously stated. "I am not aware of any major Christian denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death."