A man in Kuwait has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for making insulting comments about Islam on Twitter, a decision which some observers say reflects the growing influence of religious conservatism in the Middle Eastern nation.
"We plan to challenge the ruling against my client Hamad al-Naqi in the appeals court and we are very optimistic that the higher court will cancel the sentence," the man's lawyer, Khaled al-Shatti, told AFP.
The judge, Hisham Abdullah, delivered a written verdict and found 26-year old al-Naqi guilty of making Twitter comments between Feb. 5 and March 27 that mocked Islam, the Prophet Muhammad and his wife and companions, as well as insulted the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
The exact Twitter comments that al-Naqi allegedly made were not reported, but the plaintiff, Dowaem al-Mowazry, argued that Naqi should be made an example of and his case serve as a warning for anyone who insults the Muslim faith.
The prosecutor claimed that it was likely the al-Naqi's tweets would "stoke sedition within the community and mobilize segments alongside sectarian lines," Gulf News reported.
In his defense, al-Naqi said that he never wrote the Twitter messages, and that his account was hacked.
Earlier this month, the Kuwait parliament approved a law that stipulates capital punishment for Muslims in the country who mock God, the Quran, any of Islam's prophets and the wives of the faith's founder.
"We do not want to execute people with opinions or thought because Islam respects these people. ... But we need this legislation because incidents of cursing God have increased. We need to deter them," explained Arab Parliament President Ali al-Deqbasi, who was among the 40 lawmakers who approved the measure.
Kuwait's constitution calls for "absolute freedom" of religion and religion practice, as long as it does not conflict with public policy or morals. Islam is the official state religion, and Sharia, or Islamic law, is the main source of legislation, which prohibits Muslims from blaspheming their religion.
Paul Marshall, a Senior Fellow of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom, shared in a phone interview with The Christian Post that this recent case is a sign that religious conservatives are on the rise in Kuwait.
"Kuwait has not had many cases like this in the past, and it's a bad sign," Marshall suggested.
"The situation in Kuwait does appear to be getting worse. The Islamist parties are getting more powerful and they are calling for increased restrictions to protect Islam. In fact, a couple of months ago, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia (the most senior and most influential Sunni Muslim religious and legal authority) who visited there said that every church in Kuwait needs to be closed," he continued.
"That itself is a bad sign. And then you have parliamentarians who have been pushing to strengthen blasphemy laws."
On the question of why Islamists have been on the rise in Kuwait, Marshall suggested that it is because the Kuwaiti parliament has been taking power from the royal family.
"Kuwait has a ruling family. The parliament does not have much power. The family makes the most decisions. The parliament, however, has been gaining more power, and Islamist parties have been gaining an increasing number of seats, and their views are having some effect," he explained.
In a related story, Fazil Say, an international composer and pianist from Turkey, another predominantly Islamic country, was told by government authorities that he faces up to 18 months of jail time for re-posting Twitter comments deemed to be "publicly insulting religious values that are adopted by a part of the nation." The messages that he re-tweeted compared the Islamic vision of heaven as rivers of wine and virgins to a tavern and a brothel.