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By Aidan Clay

Washington, D.C. May 9 (ICC) – Kuwait’s parliament approved the death sentence for Muslims who insult Allah, the Qu’ran, Muslim prophets, or Muhammad’s wives on Thursday. Christians and other non-Muslim minorities will be given a minimum prison sentence of ten years for the same offense.

Forty members of parliament voted in favor of the amendment, while six opposed it, in the second and final round of voting on May 3. The bill still needs approval by Kuwait’s ruler, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, before becoming law.

The amendment follows the arrest of Hamad Al-Naqi, a Shiite Muslim, for allegedly using the social networking site Twitter to curse the Muslim Prophet Mohammed in March. In another case, writer Mohammad Al-Mulaifi was sentenced to seven years in jail with hard labor last month after he published remarks deemed offensive to Shiite Muslims. There are many Kuwaitis facing trial for similar charges that might be executed if the law is passed, reported the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

Parliamentarian Ali Al-Deqbasi said that incidents of cursing God in social media have increased and the new legislation is “needed to deter them.”

Islamist parliamentarian Mohamed Al-Dallal agrees: “Twitter is an open area… everyone can speak. But it is not always being used as social media in Kuwait—not about friendship or personal matters but it is being used politically, to attack. This is a bad thing.”

At present, blasphemy is considered slander or libel under Article 111 of Kuwait’s Penal Code and carries up to one year’s imprisonment and a fine. If the new amendment is enacted, Muslim defendants that repent in court following their first offense will be spared capital punishment, but will be given a five-year jail term or a fine of $36,000, Agence-France Presse reports. A second offense will warrant the death penalty.

Abdulhameed Dashti, a Shiite parliamentarian who opposed the amendment, told AFP that the bill breaches the Kuwaiti constitution and the principles of Islam.

Why are we trying to show Islam as a religion of death and blood when it is actually the opposite of that?” Dashti said.

The increased penalties for blasphemy follows legislation introduced in February by the newly formed Al-Adala (Justice) bloc to prohibit the construction of churches and other non-Islamic places of worship, Agenzia Fides reports. Moreover, after elections in early-February, parliamentarian Mohammed Al-Haif stated that the new parliament fully intends to center the country’s constitution on Islamic law. “The ground is now fertile to amend the second article of the constitution to facilitate the road to change making Sharia the sole source of legislation in Kuwait,” said Al-Haif.

The Kuwait Parliament seems to be seriously intending to bring Kuwait back to the Middle Ages,” writes Anna Mahjar-Barducci for the Gatestone Institute. “As well as introducing the death penalty for blasphemy, the Kuwaiti MPs have suggested banning swimsuits and requiring women to wear headscarves in public.”

Blasphemy laws have been on the rise in recent years, and are increasingly posing a threat to free speech and human rights, including religious freedom, in the Middle East. Similar prison sentences for blaspheming Islam have been issued in Tunisia, Egypt, and Pakistan in recent months.