U.S. Should Speak Out Against Human Rights Violations Caused by Kuwaiti Blasphemy Laws
Human Rights First condemns the sentencing of Musaab Shamsah to five years in prison in Kuwait. He has been convicted of insulting the Prophet after posting a message on Twitter about the role of imams in Islam. According to press reports, his lawyer noted that he had deleted the tweet ten minutes after publishing it.
“The Kuwaiti authorities should immediately drop all the charges against Musab Shamsah,” said Human Rights First’s Joelle Fiss. “This harsh sentence sends an alarming signal to all Kuwaitis. Restricting free speech in the name of protecting religion from ridicule empowers extremists and brings about a climate a fear and instability in society. The U.S. government should speak out in favor of freedom of expression and against human rights abuses caused by blasphemy laws in its relations with its Kuwaiti counterparts.”
Shamsah was arrested in May 2013 and charged in accordance with article 111 of Kuwait’s penal code, which prohibits mocking religion including “ridicule, contempt, or belittlement of religion or religious doctrine.” He was also accused of violating the 2012 National Unity Law, which criminalizes the publication of material offensive to religious groups.
Accusations of blasphemy are a tool frequently used by governments to crack down on dissenters or any citizen who exercises the right to express views peacefully. Blasphemy laws are used to stifle debate and dissent, harass political rivals or persecute religious minorities. Increasingly, governments are cracking down on those who express their views online or through the use of social media.
Allegations of blasphemy and crackdowns on free speech are worsening in Kuwait. Last month, the Kuwait Court of Appeal upheld a ten year prison sentence for blogger Hamad al-Naqi, who was also convicted of blasphemy after Tweets he allegedly posted online, although he has affirmed that his account had been hacked. Al Naqi, a Shia Muslim, was originally convicted in June 2012 for violations of article 15 of the National Security Law for “intentionally broadcasting news, statements, or false or malicious rumors… that harm the national interests of the state” and for defaming religion.
Elsewhere, Internet freedom in the Gulf region is under threat. In the United Arab Emirates, Waleed al-Shehhi received a two year sentence and a fine of 500,000 dirhams (137,000 USD) for posts he relayed on Twitter during the hearings of the trial OF 94 UAE citizens accused of plotting to overthrow the government.