Date: June 12, 2012
Church compound in Kuwait (Flickr photo by Samira)
Kuwait (MNN) ― Kuwait's proposed changes to blasphemy law continue to polarize.
Although the amendment was backed by 46 votes, the Emir rejected changes that sought the death penalty for those who blaspheme. Todd Nettleton with Voice of the Martyrs says the decision provoked a lot of backlash. However, "It seems that that legislation is going to die. It's not going to come before the entire parliament for a vote, which is obviously good news for Christians."
Even though the law had been approved by lawmakers and state ministers in two rounds of voting, the Emir still has the power to block parliament.
The question is: why he would refuse to add the death penalty as has been done in Iran and Pakistan? Nettleton explains, "One of the things that has happened just within the last week: a Kuwaiti man has been sentenced to 10 years in prison, and among the charges against him were 'insulting the prophet Mohammed.'"
The case could be pertinent to the Emir's decision. Nettleton shares some thoughts on the issue. "I'm wondering if this man being sentenced has sort of taken the need for the death penalty off of the table. 'We are addressing the issue harshly; we are taking care of those who would blaspheme the Prophet. We've just locked this guy up for 10 years.' I don't know if that played into the decision to table the legislation or not, but it's interesting that the two would happen so close together."
The biggest question mark in deciding blasphemy cases is what really defines blasphemy? "If you're a Christian in Kuwait, you wonder 'where is the line of blasphemy? If I'm witnessing to a Muslim, if I'm explaining to them why I think Jesus Christ is superior to the Prophet Mohammed, is that blasphemy?'"
For example, in Pakistan, the law is used to settle feuds and other personal scores, nearly always in favor of the Muslim. Nettleton says similar legal questions are being debated in Kuwait. "It's hard to know how it would be enforced or how it would be put into practice. What happened in Pakistan is that the blasphemy law sort of becomes a big club to beat Christians over the head with."
Although Kuwait's constitution technically protects freedom of belief, Islam is the state religion and Islamic law (Sharia) is an important source of legislation. The situation has deepened the rift between the Shia and Sunni majority Muslims and could worsen with the proposed changes.
Christians, however, have not had an easy time in Kuwait. The country is #30 on the Open Doors World Watch List, a compilation of countries known for their persecution of Christians. There are only a few hundred Kuwaiti believers; most Christians are foreign workers. "Pray for the Church in Kuwait. There is a Church there. There are believers there. We can pray that they will be encouraged, that they will be bold witnesses for Christ."
There is no word on the next step parliament will take next on the penal code changes in the blasphemy law. That's a window of opportunity. Nettleton says, "We can pray for the government. We can pray against laws that would take away religious freedom that would take away the right of Christians to be a witness, to worship together, anything that would hinder their living out their faith."