The divide between online freedom in the West and in Middle Eastern countries is about to widen.

Already in the Middle East, and particularly in Kuwait, Twitter users are being arrested and thrown in jail over tweets related to religion. A writer in Saudi Arabia received death threats after posting tweets about the Prophet Muhammad. In Turkey, a famous musician is under investigation over tweets that allegedly mocked religious values.

Now, Kuwait is moving forward with an amendment to the penal code that could make insulting Muhammad and God punishable by death.

The amendment was proposed last month after a man was arrested for allegedly defaming Muhammad, his companions, and his wife on Twitter. The man, Hamad al-Naqi, is currently awaiting trial, though he claims his account was hacked.

Naqi is from Kuwait’s Shi'ite Muslim minority. Sunni activists protested against him, and some MPs have demanded that he be given the death penalty. Notably, Shi'ite MPs voted against the proposed amendment, while Shi’ite leaders sought greater religious involvement in the creation of the bill.

As it stands, Naqi faces one year in jail if found guilty of insulting Muhammad. However, he could be jailed for 10 years if found guilty of sedition, or specifically inciting strife.

Kuwait lawmakers voted in favor of the amendment, with 46 votes in support. Four opposed it and some others abstained. All 15 members of the cabinet voted in favor.

Members of parliament (MPs) need to vote on the proposed amendment again in a second session, reports Reuters. Following that, it would need to be rubber-stamped by the country's ruler before becoming law.


Photo via Wikipedia