Kuwaiti Emir Vetoes Legislation Authorizing Death For 'Mocking Religion'

Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah on Wednesday rejected a bill passed by the country's Parliament amending a law authorizing death for 'mocking religion.'

The legislation would have amended Article 111 of the Penal Code to authorize death penalty or life imprisonment for anyone who "mocks God, Prophets and Messengers, or the honor of His Messengers and wives."

However, the royal veto is not strong enough to prevent the bill from becoming law, if it is overruled by two-thirds majority of members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers.

The Kuwaiti Emir's veto of a legislation, which violates human rights standards, comes a day after Kuwait's Court of First Instance sentenced a youth to ten years in jail for criticizing the Kings of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and allegedly "insulting" Prophet Mohammed on the social media site Twitter.

The court convicted Hamad al-Naqi, 26, for tweets criticizing the neighboring rulers on the basis of Article 15 of the National Security Law, which sets a minimum three-year sentence for "intentionally broadcasting news, statements, or false or malicious rumors … that harm the national interests of the state," Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on Thursday quoting Naqi's lawyer Khaled al-Shatti.

The court also convicted Naqi for a tweet allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammed and his wife Aisha under Article 111 of the Penal Code, which prohibits mocking religion and carries a maximum one-year sentence.

"Kuwaiti authorities clearly violate international rights standards when they punish Hamad al-Naqi for criticizing neighboring monarchs," said Joe Stork, HRW Deputy Director for the Middle East. "This harsh sentence appears designed to intimidate other Kuwaitis from exercising their right to freedom of expression," he added.

Naqi pleaded not guilty to all the charges, contending that someone had hacked his Twitter account and impersonated him. His lawyer is to appeal the conviction. Prison authorities have held Naqi in solitary confinement since another inmate attacked him on April 19.

HRW says that Kuwait is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and is therefore required to protect the rights of everyone to freedom of opinion and expression.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which provides the definite interpretation of the Covenant, has stated that "all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition" and therefore the need for "uninhibited expression" in public debate concerning public figures is very high. It also says that "prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant" except in very limited circumstances.

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