Death penalty for blasphemy in Kuwait

The National Assembly of Kuwait, the Majlis Al-Umma.

Originaly published in Barnabas Aid

Kuwait’s Islamist-dominated parliament has passed a bill that would make insulting key Islamic figures and the Quran punishable by death.

The amendment, intended to strengthen the country’s existing blasphemy legislation, gained overwhelming support in the second – and final – vote on 3 May. It will now go to Kuwait’s ruler, Sheik Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, for approval before becoming law.

Under the draft, cursing the god of Islam, Muhammad, his wives, other key Islamic figures, and the Quran become capital offences for Muslims. Non-Muslims who commit the same offence face a jail term of at least ten years.

Defendants who repent in court will have their sentence reduced to five years in prison and/or a fine of $36,000.

MP Ali al-Deqbasi said: “We do not want to execute people with opinions or thoughts because Islam respects these people… But we need this legislation because incidents of cursing God have increased. We need to deter them.”

Kuwaiti MPs proposed the death penalty for blasphemy following the arrest of Hamad al-Naqi in March for allegedly cursing Muhammad, his wife and some of his Companions on Twitter.

“Massive step backwards”
The bill has been condemned by Amnesty International and other human rights groups. Amnesty said it “would be a massive step backwards” and “a flagrant breach of the country’s international human rights obligations”.

Under international law, Amnesty added, “religious” offences do not fall under the category of “most serious crimes”, the minimum threshold prescribed for crimes carrying the death penalty.

Defamation of religion is already prohibited in Kuwait and currently carries a penalty of up to one year in prison and a fine.

Such a dramatic increase in the severity of the punishment for the offence is the latest hard-line measure to be put forward by the Islamist-led parliament. Since gaining a majority in snap parliamentary elections in February, a coalition of Islamists, al-Adala (Justice) Bloc, has made a number of moves to strengthen Islam.

A law to prevent the construction of new churches and other non-Islamic places of worship has been proposed, as have constitutional changes to impose sharia. These concerning developments take the country in a similar direction to that of neighbouring Saudi Arabia, where there is no freedom of religion and the government does not allow the public practice of any un-Islamic religion.

Kuwait is over 80 per cent Muslim but has a sizeable Christian community, most of whom are expatriates, comprising nearly 14 per cent of the population. The Kuwaiti Church already faces numerous restrictions, and its freedom looks set to be further curtailed by the al-Adala (Justice) Bloc.

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