Monday, April 30, 2012

Kuwait Considering Death Penalty for Blasphemy

by Anna Mahjar-Barducci

The Kuwaiti Parliament apparently thinks that bringing development to Kuwait does not come from job opportunities, but rather from banning swimsuits.

"Kuwait's parliament has provisionally voted in favor of a legal amendment that could make insulting God and the Prophet Mohammed punishable by death," reported the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI). Another human rights organization, IFEX, stated that the amendment, approved on 12 April, was backed by 46 Members of the Kuwaiti Parliament, with four opposed and others abstaining. The bill needs a second vote and the approval from Kuwait's ruler, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, before becoming law.

IFEX explained that the MPs proposed the death penalty for religious crimes after authorities last month arrested a Shiite man, Hamad al-Naqi, for allegedly using the social network Twitter to curse the Prophet Mohammed, his wife and some companions. Al-Naqi denies the charges and said that his Twitter account was hacked. He is presently in pre-trial detention. Reuters recently reported that Al-Naqi, while in jail, was attacked by a fellow inmate and sustained minor injuries.

Several Kuwaiti MPs threatened that if Al-Naqi would not be punished -- for an alleged crime for which he has not yet been convicted -- Kuwaitis will start mass protests. MP Jamaan Al-Harbash said that the Kuwaiti nation should punish Al-Naqi if the government fails to do so. "We are waiting for the arrest of the renegade so that calamity can be avoided," the MP commented. Another Kuwiati, MP Waleed Al-Tabatabae, said: "If the 'barking dog' is not arrested and legal measures are not taken against him, we will call gather at the Irada Square today."

ANHRI noted that many Kuwaitis are facing trial for blasphemy and, if the law is passed, might [be] executed. One is Mohammed Al-Mulaifi, a Kuwaiti writer, sentenced in April to seven years in jail with hard labor, and a fine of US$18,000 for publishing on Twitter insults against Shi'ism. According to news reports, Al-Mulaifi is guilty of saying that Kuwait "suffers from sectarian struggles and conflicts." Al-Mulaifi also accused Shi'ites in Kuwait of being disloyal to Kuwait but loyal to Iran, based on their religious belief, and slandered the Shi'ite Imam, Al-Mahdi. According to Reuters, the court commented that Al-Mulaifi posted "falsehoods about sectarian divisions in the Gulf Arab country and insulted the Shi'ite faith and its scholars with comments that damaged Kuwait's image."

A Kuwaiti observer commented to the Kuwaiti Times that "Al-Mulaifi's crime, if it was a crime, cannot be meted out with the harsh punishment of seven years. […] Seven years in jail overkills. It is not fair." The Kuwaiti Times, however, reports that a number of politicians expressed satisfaction with the verdict issued against the Kuwaiti writer. "Kuwait's judiciary system is very honest and is considered a 'safety valve' safeguarding the whole society," they stressed.

The existing laws on blasphemy in Kuwait are part of Article 111 of the Penal Code, which prohibits defamation of religion. Article 111 currently requires up to one year's imprisonment and a fine for disseminating opinions belittling religion. In Kuwait, blasphemy has been illegal since 1961.

As many "attacks against religion" are allegedly coming from Twitter, the Gulf Times reported that Kuwait is planning to pass laws to regulate the use of social networking sites. "The government is now in the process of establishing laws that will allow government entities to regulate the use of the different new media outlets such as Twitter in order to safeguard the cohesiveness of the population and society," Information Minister Sheikh Mohamed Al-Mubarak Al-Sabah said.

In addition, the Information Minister urged the Parliament to pass a law to regulate social media as soon as possible. "I have been asking the parliamentarians to give this priority," he said.

Islamist MP Mohamed Al-Dallal agrees with the Information Minister: "Twitter is an open area ... everyone can speak. But it is not always being used as social media in Kuwait -- not about friendship or personal matters but it is being used politically, to attack. This is a bad thing."

The Kuwait Parliament seems to be seriously intending to bring Kuwait back to the Middle Ages. As well as introducing the death penalty for blasphemy, the Kuwaiti MPs have suggested banning swimsuits and requiring women to wear headscarves in public. The journalist Sahar Moussa recently published an article in the Kuwaiti Times, entitled "Kuwait Development = Bikini Ban," arguing that the Kuwaiti Parliament apparently thinks that bringing development to Kuwait does not come from creating job opportunities, but rather from banning swimsuits. "My point here is that you do not have to hide behind religion and distract people with holy religious edicts and ignore what your country needs. Sorry to say it, but some MPs are distracting people with their irrelevant ideas […] Is their mission to kill the dreams of the young people and push them to find comfort and education in other countries? Well, mission accomplished! […] I would like to give notice […] that under international law, 'religious' offences do not fall under the category of 'most serious crimes,' the minimum threshold prescribed for crimes carrying the death penalty. And MPs, every time you think of swimsuits […] try planting a tree or start putting one brick on top of another to build a factory for Kuwait's sake and its future."

Anna Mahjar-Barducci


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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