Gulf War on Free Speech Spreads to Kuwait

Kuwaiti authorities arrested a man for a series of Tweets they say insulted the Prophet Mohammad

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Gabe Kahn,

Kuwaiti Lawmakers
Kuwaiti Lawmakers

Kuwaiti authorities arrested a local man for insulting the Prophet Mohammad on his Twitter account as oppression of Internet dissent in the Gulf spreads.

Blasphemy is illegal in Kuwait under the 1961 press and publications law, but it is not punishable by death as in neighboring Saudi Arabia, where the case of a columnist facing similar accusations has drawn international attention.

The Kuwaiti man, whose name was not disclosed by officials, "defamed the Islamic faith and slandered the Prophet Mohammad, his companions and his wife," the ministry said in a statement issued on state-run news agency KUNA.

The ministry "regretted the abusing of social networks by some individuals to offend basic Islamic and spiritual values, vowing to show zero tolerance in combating such serious offences," it said in the statement.

However, reports in Kuwait indicated that the arrest was only made after members of parliament – swept by Islamist parties in a recent election – staged protests demanding the arrest.

Interior ministry officials said that following an interrogation the man now faces court proceedings.

The Kuwaiti case is similar to that of Hamza Kashgari, a Saudi journalist who fled the country fearing for his life, following statements he made on Twitter were deemed blasphemous.

In another parallel with the Kuwait case, Riyadh had been amid a glacially slow shift to reform, but amid the Arab Spring has sought to shore up support among hardliner clerics opposed to liberalization.

Despite reports Kashgari was to be released following his public ‘repentance’ in an Islamic court, Kashgari is still detained and could be held indefinitely.

This not the first time a Kuwaiti tweeter has found himself targeted by authorities following statements made on the social network.

Mohammad al-Mulaifi was detained by the Kuwaiti secret police last month for 21 days after being accused of "insulting the Muslim Shiite minority," which in the past has led to a three year prison sentence. Al-Mulaifi has yet to be released.

In September a Kuwaiti court convicted a man for insulting Gulf rulers and posting "inflammatory sectarian comments online," but he was released immediately because of time already served while awaiting trial.

Twitter is very popular in Kuwait, where many politicians, journalists and other public figures use theservice to debate current events and share gossip. 

Kuwaiti media carried unconfirmed comments from the man denying the accusations. "I will never attack the Holy Prophet." He reportedly claimed his account had been hacked.