Kuwait: 15 Years for Blasphemy

Kuwait sentenced a controversial religious figure living in London-exile to 15 years in prison for blasphemy against one of Mohammad's wives

Gabe Kahn. ,

Kuwait City
Kuwait City
CC/Mohammad Alatar

Just one day after Saudi Arabia sentenced an Australian national to 500 lashes for blasphemy, a Kuwait court on Wednesday sentenced a controversial religious figure to 15 years in prison for the same offense.

A criminal court in Kuwait City found Yasser Al Habeeb guilty of insulting Aisha, the wife of Prophet Mohammad and daughter of the first Caliph Abu Baker Al Siddique. The decision was based on a 1970 legal text related to state security crimes.

Kuwait, in September last year, stripped the controversial cleric of his citizenship after it accused him accusing him of heinous crimes that prejudiced Kuwaitis and Muslims and threatened social peace.

The citizenship revocation decision was based on Article 13 of the 1959 Kuwaiti Citizenship Law, Kuwait said.

Sheikh Yasser al-Habibis is a Kuwaiti Shia cleric living in exile. He was born in 1979 in Kuwait and migrated to England in December 2004. He was arrested in November 2003 and sentenced to one year's imprisonment by the Kuwaiti government on charges of cursing Abu Bakr, Umar and Aisha.

In February 2004 he was released under an annual pardon announced by the Amir of Kuwait on the occasion of the country's National Day, but his rearrest was ordered a few days later. Sheikh al-Habib had then fled Kuwait for Iraq and Iran before being granted asylum in the UK. At the time he was sentenced in absentia to 10 years' imprisonment.

From London he has continued to express his controversial views, which observers say led to Wednesday's in abstentia conviction. Wednesdays verdict, if not challenged, would likely result in Al Habeeb being placed on Interpol’s wanted list, Al Aan news reported.

British authorities are expected to deny any requests for extradition, however. As a result, observers suggest the move might be aimed at ensuring Al Habeeb is unable to travel to Muslim countries that would extradite him to Kuwait.

Al Habeeb's conviction underscores the deep divide of values between Islam and the West – and raises questions about the geopolitical posture of Western officials as the Arab Spring increasingly turns into an Islamic Winter.