x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Shiite blogger found not guilty of royal Twitter insults by Kuwait court

Nasser Abul was ruled innocent of insulting the royal families of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia on Twitter but guilty of contempt of religion for insulting Salafis.

Kuwaitis gathering outside the palace of justice in Kuwait City demanding the release of Kuwaiti blogger Nasser Abul. YASSER AL ZAYYAT / AFP PHOTO
Kuwaitis gathering outside the palace of justice in Kuwait City demanding the release of Kuwaiti blogger Nasser Abul. YASSER AL ZAYYAT / AFP PHOTO

KUWAIT CITY // A Kuwaiti court yesterday ordered a Shiite man accused of insulting the royal families of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia on Twitter to be released from prison while finding him guilty of contempt of religion.

Nasser Abul, 26, was found innocent of a charge related to threatening "state security", an offence that can carry a lengthy prison sentence.

However, Mr Abul was found guilty of contempt of religion and sentenced to three months in jail. Because Mr Abul has spent 111 days in custody since his arrest, his family were expecting him to be released from prison last night.

"He will be free today; this is a victory for freedom of speech," said Mr Abul's brother, Hassan Al Shirazi, 20, one of about 20 family members and supporters in court.

Mr Al Shirazi said when his brother is released he will take him home to "clean him up" before they attend a welcome-home gathering with family and friends at his lawyer's diwaniyah, the Kuwaiti equivalent of a Majlis.

Posts that appeared on Mr Abul's Twitter account in May called the Saudi king scum and compared Bahrain's royal family to Jews and pigs. Another tweet said that a Salafi - a member of a conservative branch of Sunni Islam common in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia - is "a Jew and impure".

Mr Abul's lawyer had argued in court that his client's Twitter account had been infiltrated by hackers.

One of the detained man's supporters, Jaffar Ameer, speaking outside the court, said: "We don't agree with the second part of the judgement," referring to the three-month sentence for insulting Salafis. Mr Ameer argued that Salafism is a political rather than religious movement.

"The court accepted Salafism as a religion, so you cannot talk about them, you cannot say anything," Mr Ameer added.

The tweets were posted at a time of heightened sectarian tension in the Gulf after Bahrain's Sunni royal family cracked down on protests led by the country's Shiite majority.

While the majority of Kuwaitis are Sunni, between 15 and 30 per cent are Shiite.

Mr Abul was pictured on a Facebook page set up by his reporters at a demonstration in Kuwait to show support for the Bahraini opposition before his arrest in June.

Some Shiites claim that Saudi Arabia, which sent troops into Bahrain to help contain the anti-government protests, is wielding its influence in Kuwait through Sunni tribes with cross-border connections. They believe the Saudi government put pressure on the Kuwaitis to detain Mr Abul when the comments appeared online.

The case attracted international attention. Amnesty international said the posts did not advocate "violence, racism or racial hatred" and described Mr Abul as "a prisoner of conscience".

Twitter has quickly grown in popularity in Kuwait, which is home to the Arabian Peninsula's most influential parliament and a vibrant and critical press. The growth in the use of social media has recently led to a wave of court cases.

On Sunday, the hard-line Sunni activist Mubarak Al Bathali was sentenced to three months in prison for remarks made on Twitter that the court considered offensive to Shiites.

jcalderwood@thenational.ae