Nations where Islam is dominant continue to punish “blasphemy” — i.e. saying anything that might offend the delicate sensibilities of fundamentalist Muslims — in the harshest ways imaginable. Kuwait’s parliament just passed a new law that allows the death penalty for blasphemy. And even those who voted against it did so, in part, because it didn’t go far enough:
Kuwait’s parliament approved a law imposing the death penalty on any Muslim who insults God, his prophets, messengers, Prophet Mohammad’s wives or the Koran, in any form of expression, if they don’t repent.
The bill, which adds articles to Kuwait’s penal code, was passed today by 40 lawmakers, including all Cabinet ministers present, and rejected by five Shiite Muslims as well as one liberal lawmaker.
“Islam is a religion of tolerance, peace and acceptance, but that doesn’t mean it should be stepped on,” lawmaker Ali al-Deqbasi told the house before the vote. AbdulHamid Dashti, who voted against the bill, said the law “should be broadened to criminalize those who insult all beliefs and faiths.”
According to the law, judges must give defendants the option of repenting, which, if taken, reduces the sentence to at least five years in prison and a fine of 10,000 dinars ($36,000). Non-Muslims will be sentenced to 10 years in prison if convicted of violating the law, which will take effect after signed by the emir and then published in the Official Gazette within a month of parliamentary approval.
When Alex Aan picked up a copy of Karen Armstrong’s Holy War from his local library in west Sumatra in 2005, he had little inkling of his own religious battle to come. But after posting “God doesn’t exist” on Facebook, the soft-spoken civil servant, 30, faces up to 11 years in jail for what is considered blasphemy in Indonesia.
His case has stoked a debate in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, whose 240 million citizens are technically guaranteed freedom of religion but protected by law only if they believe in one of six credos: Islam, Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Hinduism. Those who question any of those face five years in prison for “insulting a major religion”, plus an additional six years if they use the internet to spread such “blasphemy” to others.
Activists say Aan’s is the first case in which an atheist is being tried in relation to the first pillar of Indonesia’s state philosophy – pancasila, which requires belief in one god. From the medium-security rural prison where he has been held for the past two months, Aan has little hope for the future. He has been beaten by angry mobs, rejected by his community and endured public calls for his beheading. For now he is lying low in his cramped cell, awaiting an imminent verdict and has told none of his fellow inmates about his supposed crime.
“The truth is way too dangerous,” says Aan quietly, his hands clasped together over his prison-issue blue jeans and button-down shirt. “I’m really worried about my future. And I’m only just now starting to think about how I’m going to deal with it.”
Freedom? What’s that?