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Twitter Prisons for Tweeting in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

Twitter Prisons for Tweeting in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia

by Richard S. Ehrlich | Bangkok, Thailand
October 31, 2013

In Kuwait, a Shia Muslim man's 10-year prison sentence has been upheld by the Court of Appeals which found him guilty of "insulting" Islam and the Sunni Muslim monarchies of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia when he posted statements on Twitter.

In Saudi Arabia meanwhile, a Saudi blogger was freed on Tuesday (October 29) 20 months after being imprisoned for describing on Twitter an imaginary conversation with Islam's Prophet Mohammad which included declarations of love and hate.

In the more serious case, Hamad al-Naqi failed to convince Kuwait's judges that he was innocent and that unidentified hackers used his Twitter account to make the illegal statements.

His 10-year sentence was announced on Monday (October 28).

It endorsed Kuwait's lower court which, in 2012, "found al-Naqi guilty of insulting the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, of provoking sectarian tensions, of insulting the Prophet Muhammad and the prophet's wife and companions, mocking Islam, and misusing his mobile phone to disseminate the objectionable comments," said New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"Ten years in prison for peaceful criticism shows just how little Kuwait respects freedom of expression," said Joe Stork, HRW's deputy Middle East director on Tuesday (October 29).

Al-Naqi's single tweet about the Prophet Muhammad, his wife Aisha and their companions violated article 111 of Kuwait's Penal Code, which decrees that mocking religion is punishable by a maximum one year in prison, according to al-Naqi's lawyer Khaled al-Shatti.

Al-Naqi's multiple tweets criticizing neighboring Arab monarchs violates the National Security Law's article 15 which requires a minimum three-year jail sentence for intentionally broadcasting news, statements, or false or malicious rumors that harm the national interests of the state, the lawyer told HRW.

It is unclear if al-Naqi, a Kuwaiti, will appeal in the supreme court.

His case highlights a growing conservative influence in Kuwait, including crackdowns on online dissent and the deepening cooperation among Arab Gulf nations, the Associated Press reported.

In Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, Hamza Kashgari was released after being jailed for posting tweets addressed to the Prophet Mohammad in which Kashgari said he "loved the rebel in you" and "loved some aspects of you, hated others," according to Reuters.

After posting the tweets last year, angry Islamists in Saudi Arabia threatened to kill him, so Kashgari fled to Muslim-majority Malaysia but was extradited back home several days later and jailed.

Kashgari, formerly a columnist for a Saudi newspaper, al-Bilad, was freed on Tuesday after writing a lengthy public apology and repenting.

Blasphemy can be punished by death in Saudi Arabia.

*************

Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including "Hello My Big Big Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand: Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled King Bhumibol Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.

His websites are
http://asia-correspondent.tumblr.com
http://www.flickr.com/photos/animists/sets
https://gumroad.com/l/RHwa

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