(Beirut, June 7, 2012) – A 10-year prison sentence for criticizing the kings of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and allegedly “insulting” the Prophet Mohammed on the social media site Twitter violates human rights standards. Kuwait’s Court of First Instance sentenced Hamad al-Naqi, 26, on those charges on June 5, 2012.
Al-Naqi’s lawyer, Khaled al-Shatti, told Human Rights Watch that the court convicted al-Naqi for tweets criticizing the neighboring rulers on the basis of article 15 of the National Security Law, which sets a minimum three-year sentence for “intentionally broadcasting news, statements, or false or malicious rumors … that harm the national interests of the state.” The court also convicted al-Naqi for a tweet allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed and his wife Aisha under article 111 of the Penal Code, which prohibits mocking religion and carries a maximum one-year sentence.
“Kuwaiti authorities clearly violate international rights standards when they punish Hamad al-Naqi for criticizing neighboring monarchs,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “This harsh sentence appears designed to intimidate other Kuwaitis from exercising their right to freedom of expression.”
Al-Naqi pleaded not guilty to all the charges, contending that someone had hacked his Twitter account and impersonated him. His lawyer told Human Rights Watch that he would appeal his client’s conviction. Prison authorities have held al-Naqi in solitary confinement since another inmate attacked him on April 19, saying that this measure was necessary for his protection.
On June 6, 2012, Emir Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah rejected legislation passed by the Kuwaiti Parliament that would have amended article 111 of the Penal Code to authorize the death penalty or life imprisonment for anyone who “mocks God, the prophets and messengers, or the honor of his messengers and wives.” A two-thirds majority of members of parliament and cabinet ministers can override the Emir’s veto.
Kuwait is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and is therefore required to protect the rights of everyone to freedom of opinion and expression. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which provides the definite interpretation of the Covenant, has stated that “all public figures, including those exercising the highest political authority such as heads of state and government, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition” and therefore the need for “uninhibited expression” in public debate concerning public figures is very high. It also says that “Prohibitions of displays of lack of respect for a religion or other belief system, including blasphemy laws, are incompatible with the Covenant” except in very limited circumstances.