KUWAIT CITY - Kuwait's parliament on Thursday, May 3, approved law amendment to make insulting God or Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) punishable by death, sparking a heated debate about the freedom of expression in tiny Gulf Arab country.
We do not want to execute people with opinions or thought because Islam respects these people, opposition lawmaker Ali al-Deqbasi told parliament, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
But we need this legislation because incidents of cursing God have increased. We need to deter them.
In the second and final round of voting, 40 MPs voted to pass a bill that slaps death penalty on those insulting God or Prophet Muhammad.
Under the amendment, blasphemers who stand by their actions when questioned by a judge will face the death penalty.
Defendants who repent in court will be spared capital punishment but will get a jail sentence for five years and a fine of $36,000 or one of them.
Repentance by blasphemers who repeat the crime is not acceptable under the bill.
Non-Muslims who commit the same offence face a jail term of not less than 10 years, according to the bill.
The bill now awaits the approval of Kuwait's ruler to become a law.
Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs Jamal Shehab told reporters after the vote that the government will accept and implement the law.
Blasphemy is illegal under Kuwait's publications law and under the penal code as slander or libel.
At present it carries a jail term, the length of which depends on the severity of the comments and their perceived effect on society, lawyers say.
Muslims make up around 85 percent of Kuwait's populations. Expatriate Christians and Hindus are the next largest groups.
The legal amendments to slap the death penalty on blasphemers have fueled a heated debate in the Arab country.
Why are we trying to show Islam as a religion of death and blood when it is actually the opposite of that, Shiite lawmaker Abdulhammed Dashti said.
Shiite MPs also demanded that the bill impose the death penalty on anyone who curses their sect's 12 revered Imams, but the Sunni-dominated parliament rejected their request.
Shiites make up about one third of Kuwait's 1.1 million nationals and vocal members can be found in senior positions in parliament, media and business.
The amendment was proposed after the arrest of a Shiite man in March for defaming the prophet, his companion and his wife on Twitter.
The man, identified by his lawyer as Hamad al-Naqi, has told police his account was hacked. He is now in pre-trial detention.
Ibtihal al-Khatib, an academic and columnist at daily al-Jarida, was also critical of the bill.
"The government is trying to hit sectarian discourse hard because of fear is what is happening in the region, without knowing that what they are doing is creating another underground discourse," Khatib, who has 12,900 followers on Twitter, told Reuters.
"Bottling it up would be the worst thing that you could do to a nation."
Twitter has enjoyed runaway popularity in Kuwait, whose oil wealth and freer political system have helped to shield it from Arab Spring-style anti-government demonstrations.One million accounts were registered in the country of 3.6 million inhabitants as of April, a two-fold rise in 12 months, according to Paris-based Semiocast, which compiles Twitter data.