International human rights charity Amnesty International has condemned a proposed legal amendment in Kuwait which would make blasphemy a crime punishable by death.
The Gulf state’s parliament last week voted in favour of the new law, which was brought to the table after a man was arrested for insulting the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) on social-networking website Twitter.
The bill currently remains in draft form and is still subject to a second and final vote. It also needs to win final approval from Kuwait's ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah before becoming law.
“We urge Kuwait’s parliament to reject such an amendment which would constitute a flagrant breach of the country’s international human rights obligations,” said Ann Harrison, deputy director of Amnesty International's MENA programme.
“All eyes are on Kuwait’s recently elected legislators. They must immediately scrap any plans to introduce the death penalty for blasphemy.”
Hamad al-Naqi, a member of Kuwait’s Shi’a Muslim minority, is being held in pre-trial detention after being charged with “defaming the Prophet” in comments made on his Twitter page.
Authorities also claim to have evidence that he supported pro-democracy demonstrations in Bahrain.
Al-Naqi has denied posting the tweets, saying somebody hacked into his account.
Existing laws on blasphemy in Kuwait are set out in Article 111 of the Penal Code, which prohibits defamation of religion. The offence has been punishable since 1961, but so far only carried up to one year’s imprisonment and a fine.