By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
WASHINGTON, DC (ANS) -- Kuwait's ruler has rejected a bill passed by parliament on Wednesday that approves the death penalty for insulting Islam.
International Christian Concern (ICC) www.persecution.org says the decision, however, may be overridden by the parliament and follows the recent conviction of a Kuwaiti man sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on Monday for mocking Islam on social media.
ICC sais religious freedom advocates are concerned that blasphemy laws are the greatest threat towards religious minorities, especially Christians, in Kuwait and throughout the Middle East today.
In a media update, ICC says Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, sent a bill back to parliament on June 6 that stipulates the death sentence for Muslims who insult Allah, the Qu'ran, Muslim prophets, or Muhammad's wives.
An ICC spokesman said: "The bill, initially passed by an overwhelming majority in parliament on May 3, also stipulates that Christians and other non-Muslim minorities will be given a minimum prison sentence of 10 years for the same offense.
"While the emir has the power to refuse bills, the elected assembly can override the rejection by passing the bill again by a two-thirds majority vote."
ICC went on to say that only two days before the emir rejected the amendment, Hamad Al-Naqi, a Shiite Muslim, was given a 10-year prison sentence by a lower court on June 4 for allegedly cursing Mohammad on the social networking site Twitter in March.
In a similar case, Kuwaiti writer Mohammad Al-Mulaifi was sentenced to seven years in jail with hard labor in April after he published remarks deemed offensive to Shiite Muslims. If the bill is passed, many Kuwaitis facing trial for similar charges might be executed.
"The Kuwait Parliament seems to be seriously intending to bring Kuwait back to the Middle Ages," writes Anna Mahjar-Barducci for the Gatestone Institute.
"As well as introducing the death penalty for blasphemy, the Kuwaiti MPs have suggested banning swimsuits and requiring women to wear headscarves in public," she said.
ICC explained that at present, blasphemy is considered slander or libel under Article 111 of Kuwait's Penal Code and carries up to one year's imprisonment and a fine.
The organization says that if the new amendment is enacted, Muslim defendants that repent in court following their first offense will be spared capital punishment, but will be given a five-year jail term or a fine of $36,000, according to an Agence-France Presse (AFP) report. A second offense will warrant the death penalty.
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said: "Bans against blasphemy are increasingly being enforced and expanded not just in Kuwait, but across the Middle East, to crush the fundamental freedoms of religion and expression. The so-called 'Arab Spring' that toppled oppressive dictators throughout the Muslim world is now giving rise to another form of tyranny - Islamist-dominated governments that criminalize blasphemy to silence dissidents and stifle freedom of speech and worship."
He added: "These laws will embolden radical Muslims to commit violent acts against perceived blasphemers which, inevitably, will primarily target the Christian community and non-Sunni Muslim minorities whose beliefs are deemed unorthodox. We urge Kuwait's parliament to protect the freedoms of all Kuwaitis by rejecting an amendment that would constitute a breach of the country's international human rights obligations."
ICC is a Washington-DC based human rights organization that exists to help persecuted Christians worldwide. ICC provides Awareness, Advocacy, and Assistance to the worldwide persecuted Church. For additional information or for an interview, contact ICC at 800-422-5441.