(Kuwait photos by Najwa Marafie)
Kuwait (MNN) ― Kuwaiti lawmakers have taken a step that is strengthening the existing blasphemy laws.
The parallel drawn to Pakistan's law was obvious. Todd Nettleton, spokesman for the Voiice of the Martyrs USA, explains, "The change is only in the punishment. It is already illegal to commit blasphemy against Islam or against Mohammed in Kuwait. Instead of a jail term being the punishment, this change will put the potential of a death penalty on the table."
The changes have gone forward rather quietly but still have a ways to go. "This has passed, apparently--the first vote that has to take place. It will need another vote, and then the leader of the country will have to sign off on it; so it's not a done deal at this point. There are still some political things that are going on."
The case of suspected blasphemy on Twitter caused uproar in the Gulf Arab state. The accused claims his account was hacked, which brings another question to the forefront, says Nettleton. What happens when you involve social networking and electronic media into the mix? "I think the concern--not only for Voice of the Martyrs, but for all people who believe in freedom and believe in freedom of speech--is that this can be used to put someone to death for saying something against Mohammed, or against the Quran, or against Islam."
The amendment was backed by 46 votes, while four opposed it and others abstained. Those in favor included all 15 members of the cabinet. It's also a deeply polarizing case. "The man who has just been accused of blasphemy is a Shi'ite. They make up about 30% of Kuwait's people; Sunnis make up about 70%, and they are the ones who are pushing this change to put the death penalty on the table." Shi'ite parliamentarians voted against the amendment on Thursday.
With teeth being added to the blasphemy law, what it boils down to, says Nettleton, is this: "Witnesses for Christ could face the death penalty if they would be accused and convicted of blasphemy, if this law passes the process and becomes approved."
While the constitution protects freedom of belief, the government restricts this in practice. According to the constitution, Islam is the state religion and Islamic law (sharia) is an important source of legislation.
That implementation is why Kuwait is #30 on the Open Doors World Watch List, a compilation of countries known for their persecution of Christians. There are only a few hundred Kuwaiti believers; most Christians are foreign workers.
Conversion from Islam to other religions is not permitted, and the government actively supports proselytism by Sunni Muslims. Converts (like Muslim Background Believers) risk discrimination, harassment, police monitoring of their activities, arbitrary arrest and detention, and physical and verbal abuse. Still, there is evidence to suggest that the Gospel is making inroads. "Pray for evangelism efforts. Pray for those who are sharing the Gospel that they would continue to be bold and not intimidated."