Cursing God, the prophet Mohammed or his wives may soon become a capital offense in Kuwait. The country’s parliament has voted for amendments to the penal code, issuing harsher punishments for religious crimes.
The approval was provisional, so the changes will come into force only after a second vote in two weeks’ time, and governmental approval.
The amendments received overwhelming support in Thursday’s vote, with 46 MPs backing them. Four Shiite MPs voted against, a pro-Shiite Sunni legislator abstained and two lawmakers refused to vote.
Shiite MPs had demanded that capital punishment also be applied to those offending their sect’s 12 revered Imams. But the Sunni-controlled parliament rejected the request.
Kuwait authorities decided to stiffen penalties for blasphemy after last month’s arrest of a Shiite, who allegedly cursed the prophet Mohammed on his Twitter account. The suspect is currently under investigation.
Hamad al-Naqi was arrested for allegedly insulting the prophet, his wife Ayesha and his companions. At first he claimed that his Twitter account had been hacked, but later reportedly confessed to the deed. After the news broke, dozens of Kuwait City residents gathered for a demonstration outside the state security department, calling for strict punishment.
In Kuwait, capital crimes currently include murder, rape and some other sex offences, crimes against the security of the state and some drug-related crimes. The condemned are executed in semi-private hangings, with the press allowed to take pictures of the body and make them public as a deterrent against major crimes.
Kuwait has been witnessing a rise in tension between its Sunni majority and the Shiites, roughly one third of the country’s population. The two sects of Islam are increasingly at odds across the entire Greater Middle East region.