In the United States, a wayward tweet may cost the offender a friendship or even a job, but it’s unlikely to land anyone in prison. Not so in Kuwait, where Musab Shamsah was sentenced to five years for a single Twitter post on the Islamic religion.
Shamsah was convicted on Monday in a Kuwaiti court, which deemed that his tweet about differences between Shia and Sunni theology was offensive. The defendant claims that prosecutors took his message, which was about Mohammed’s grandsons, the wrong way. Shamsah reportedly deleted it within 10 minutes of posting, and followed up with tweets explaining what he meant.
“It’s an insult to all Kuwaitis for the government to give itself the authority to decide what’s insulting to religion, and to jail Kuwaitis for it,” stated Sarah Leah Whitson, who is the Middle East director for the humanitarian group Human Rights Watch. “Let each Kuwaiti decide what he or she finds insulting, and as simple as clicking ‘unfollow,’ decide whether they want to see or hear a message.”
Human Rights Watch is fighting to have all charges against the defendant dropped, and is urging Kuwait to stop prosecuting people for discussing their religious views.
In a similar case, blogger Hamad al-Naqi was convicted of insulting the Prophet and the kings of Saudi Arabia and Bahrai. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and lost his appeal.
“Kuwaiti prosecutors appear to have designated themselves as expert theologians able to ascertain whether opinions on thousand-year-old religious matters might be offensive,” said Whitson. “Don’t Kuwaiti police, judges, and lawyers have anything more important to do than prosecute Kuwaitis engaged in religious debates?”
According to article 111 in Kuwaiti law, the mocking of religion is not allowed. And according to the 2012 National Unity Law, it is illegal to broadcast or publish content that some religious groups might find offensive.