KUWAIT (Reuters) - A Kuwaiti man was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Monday after being convicted of endangering state security by insulting the Prophet Mohammad and the Sunni Muslim rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on social media.
Shi‘ite Muslim Hamad al-Naqi pleaded innocent at the start of the trial last month, saying he did not post the messages and that his Twitter account had been hacked.
The written verdict, delivered by Judge Hisham Abdullah, found Naqi guilty of all charges, a court secretary told Reuters. The sentence was the maximum that 26-year-old Naqi could have received, his lawyer Khaled al-Shatti said.
The judge found him guilty of insulting the Prophet, the Prophet’s wife and companions, mocking Islam, provoking sectarian tensions, insulting the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and misusing his mobile phone to spread the comments.
“The prison sentence is long but we have the chance to appeal,” Shatti said. Under Kuwaiti law, the defence can file an appeal within 20 days of the verdict.
The civil plaintiff arguing the case against Naqi, as well as some Kuwaiti politicians, had called for Naqi to be put to death in a high-profile and divisive case that has stoked sectarian tensions in the Gulf state.
Naqi did not appear in court on Monday. He was in the central prison where he has been held since his arrest in March, the court secretary said. He appeared in previous sessions in a wooden and metal cage, guarded by armed guards in black balaclavas.
Shatti had argued that even if his client had written the remarks, he would be guilty of a “crime of opinion”, not of threatening national security. He told the court last week that Naqi was being used as a political tool.
The civil plaintiff, Dowaem al-Mowazry, has argued that Naqi must be made an example of, which was why the death penalty was appropriate.
Kuwait’s parliament, where opposition Islamists have grown in influence, endorsed a legal amendment last month that would make insulting God and the Prophet Mohammad by Muslims punishable by death instead of the current maximum penalty of 10 years in jail.
Any change in the law has to be approved by Kuwait’s ruler, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who can also pardon people convicted of crimes. The government has so far rejected the push to bring in the death penalty, according to Kuwaiti media.
Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Additional reporting by Mahmoud Harby; Editing by Andrew Torchia and Jon Hemming