Kuwait Twitter 'insult' prison sentence condemned

image source, AFP
image captionMusab Shamsah argued that prosecutors had misinterpreted his tweet

A human rights group has condemned the sentencing of a Kuwaiti man to five years in prison for a comment he made on Twitter about Sunni-Shia theology.

Musab Shamsah was convicted on Monday of insulting the Prophet Muhammad with a tweet on the role of imams in Islam.

He was the second Kuwaiti to be found guilty of such a charge in three weeks.

It was an "insult for all Kuwaitis for the government to give itself the authority to decide what's insulting to religion", Human Rights Watch said.

The US-based group said the authorities should drop all charges against Mr Shamsah, and that prosecutors should stop bringing charges against people for their peaceful expression of religious, political, or other views.

Mr Shamsah was arrested in May and charged in line with article 111 of the emirate's penal code, which prohibits mocking religion.

He was also accused of violating the 2012 National Unity Law, which criminalises publishing and broadcasting content that could be deemed offensive to religious "sects" or groups, and of misusing his mobile phone to disseminate objectionable comments.

Mr Shamsah's lawyer Khalil Ghulam said he had pleaded not guilty to all the charges, arguing that prosecutors had misinterpreted his tweet, which pertained to Shia and Sunni theological differences and made a reference to the Prophet's grandsons.

Mr Ghulam also said his client had deleted the tweet 10 minutes after publishing it, and clarified what he had meant in two subsequent tweets.

Last month, the Kuwait Court of Appeal upheld a 10-year prison sentence for blogger Hamad al-Naqi, who was convicted of insulting the Prophet and the kings of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on Twitter.

Human Rights Watch said that since a political crisis in June 2012, the Kuwaiti authorities had "ramped up" their efforts to limit free expression, charging dozens of politicians, online activists, and journalists with "offending" Kuwait's emir, other regional leaders and the Prophet.

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