x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 September 2017

Not guilty plea for Kuwaiti accused of blasphemy on Twitter

A Kuwaiti man charged with defaming the Prophet Mohammed on Twitter as well as insulting the rulers of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia will plead not guilty when his trial starts on May 21, according to his lawyer.

KUWAIT CITY // A Kuwaiti man charged with defaming the Prophet Mohammed on Twitter as well as insulting the rulers of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia will plead not guilty when his trial starts on May 21, according to his lawyer.

The case of Hamad Al Naqi, a Shiite who faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, has caused uproar, where dozens of Sunnis have protested against his alleged crime.

Some have called for him to be put to death.

Blasphemy is illegal in Kuwaiti, as is libel.

Mr Naqi was arrested in March and charged with defaming the Islamic faith and the Prophet Mohammed, as well as his companions and his own wife. Prosecutors later charged him with insulting the rulers of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia on Twitter.

Mr Naqi has told police that he did not make any of the comments and that his account was hacked.

Earlier this month, lawmakers endorsed a legal amendment that could make such crimes — if committed by Muslims — punishable by death.

Mr Naqi's lawyer said the amendment should not affect his client however.

"The new law does not affect this case because it happened in the past," his lawyer, Khaled Al Shatti, said. "The new law will only take effect in the future."

If Mr Naqi is found guilty of endangering state security the maximum penalty he could face would be 10 years in jail.

Twitter is extremely popular in Kuwait. One million accounts were registered in the country of 3.6 million as of April, a two-fold rise in 12 months, according to Paris-based Semiocast.

In the past, those convicted of blasphemy in Kuwait or of insulting Gulf rulers have faced fines or jail terms of varying lengths depending on the severity of the comments, lawyers say.