MPs move to toughen penalty for blasphemy Call to monitor Husseiniyats

KUWAIT CITY, March 29: The National Assembly on Thursday discussed a proposal to amend the Penal Code, increasing the legal punishment for anyone proven to have publicly committed blasphemy. The Legal and Legislative committee was assigned to review the amendment and form a report to be debated and voted on during the April 10 session.

The amendment proposal to Article 111 stipulates “the death penalty or life imprisonment to those who publicly insult God Almighty (Divine Entity) or Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) or his wives by words, writings, drawings, or pictures or any other means of expression in a public place or where they can be seen or heard by those in a public arena.”

 The amendment further adds “that the punishment may be reduced to provisional detention for a period not exceeding five years if the convicted expresses remorse and regret in writing and verbally and vows not to return to his previous conduct”. If the convicted returns to his previous behavior, then the Court of Cassation must carry out the previous penalty, according to the proposal.

The amendment to Article 111 of the Penal Code was submitted by MPs Jamaan Al-Harbash, Waleed Al-Tabtabaei, Faisal Al-Mislem, Mubarak Al-Walaan and Falah Al-Sawagh. This came following the arrest of a Kuwaiti citizen on Tuesday who made blasphemous remarks on Twitter.

The Assembly severely condemned the perpetrator and passionately praised the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), but accused the Cabinet, specifically the Interior Ministry for failing to curb the recurrent phenomenon of blasphemy against Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) and his wives. They urged the approval of the legislation and the penalties.

MP Mohammed Al-Hatlani said the Kuwaiti youth are the ones who have called the attention to the statements of the accused, which indicates neglect from the Interior Ministry. MP Osama Al-Shaheen added Kuwait is a religious state not secular and should be protected as such regardless of individual convictions.

MP Falah Al-Sawagh noted he was informed of another individual who had recently made defamatory remarks against the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), but the government has yet to take action.
A vocal dispute occurred, however, between Islamist MP Mohammed Hayef and Shiite MP Adnan Adbulsamad when the former called on the government to monitor Husseiniyats (Shiite Mosques) just like Sunni Mosques, asserting the incident was not an individual act. Adbulsamad said there is an agenda to divide national unity through sedition.

 Shiite MPs Adnan Al-Mutawa and Abdulhameed Al-Dashti interfered and said that Hayef did not consider Article 135 of the Constitution which stipulates respect for all beliefs.

For his part, MP Marzouq Al-Ghanim said it is a shame that it was a Muslim and a Kuwaiti citizen who committed the crime. He alone should be condemned, not his family or his sect, he said.

Minister of State for National Assembly Affairs and Minister of Housing, Shuaib Al-Muweizri, also defended the Cabinet from the accusations. He assured the government will never accept the defamation of Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). He said the government must not be held responsible for mistakes committed by an individual but lamented the continuous attacks against it by MPs.

Meanwhile, the Parliament unanimously approved the report of the Education Affairs Committee on the establishment of Jaber University for Applied Sciences draft bill in its first reading.

During discussion of this issue, the lawmakers stressed the importance of establishing this university quickly to cope with the big number of students who apply for admissions every year. They also stressed the need for the university to include labor-related specializations. However, the MPs were split on whether this university should be built and run by the private sector or the government sector.

MP Ali Al-Deqbasi pointed out that the matter is not issuance of the law but the importance of setting a date to implement the law of establishing this university as there are more than 50,000 Kuwaiti students who could not get chance to go to university due to lack of seats.

MP Abdul-Rahman Al-Anjari said according to international educational standard, the output of education should conform to the job market. He added every academic year thousands of Kuwaiti graduates apply for jobs at the Civil Service Commission CSC but no jobs can be found for them and the government has to support them with money before they are employed.

He suggested, as an oil state, Kuwait should establish a petrochemical university similar to other countries such as Saudi Arabia and other Western countries so students can benefit.

He stressed the problem is that 80 per cent of the economic activity is occupied by the government which depends only on oil revenues to pay salaries “Therefore the private sector should be given a chance to take part in the development plan of the country.”

Hamad Matar said the percentage of admission at the Kuwait University is low compared to Saudi Arabia due to lack of space and various specializations citing a girls university in Saudi Arabia that has 36 specializations which was built within two years “but we have the Al-Shaddadiya University which for several years is still at foundation level. I doubt the government can establish the Jaber University within 3 years as mentioned in the bill.”

MP Ahmed Lari questioned whether establishment of this university will add anything new to the educational process in this country, and whether a study has been done on the importance of this university with regard to private sector role.

The Education Minister, Nayef Al-Hajraf pointed to the importance of establishing this university, stressing that the government will support it to increase handling capacity for the university seats to move in line with the development plan and job market.

He pointed out the three years period is not enough to establish the university because of bureaucracy that exist in the system for executing tenders which poses hindrances to projects. He added, “We need to rehabilitate staffs for job market and cover the shortage that exists now and hope that this university will be a real addition to the job market.”

MP Saleh Ashour suggested the university should be built and handled by the private sector because all indications show the government cannot build the university within the required period. He also suggested that the government should establish the ‘Public Authority for Education and Training’ whose only duty is to supervise the performance of the universities.

 MP Adnan Abdul-Samad said the education minister is right when he said the university project cannot be built in 3 years time because of the bureaucratic process in the country, adding “It looks impossible for the government to build this university with a separate budget as mentioned in the bill, because even the Kuwait University is run with attached budget, not separate.”

MP Nabil Al-Fadhel also suggested that the private sector should be allowed to build and operate the universities in the country to lessen the burden on the government whose duty should focus on financing Kuwaiti students in these universities.

Mohammed Al-Dalal said according to recent statistic, about 5,000 Kuwaiti students have given up their education at the Public Authority for Applied Education and Training (PAAET) because they don’t have hope for job market in the future.

MP Jamaan Al-Harbash said quick establishment of this university is very important to meet demands of job market in the country “so I say the three year period should be reviewed and reduced to only one year for its establishment”, adding there are some influential people who do not want the establishment of other government universities.

He urged the government to build the university within a year similar to the Gulf University, and called on the Education Minister to quit and make way for someone else if he cannot break the bureaucracy in the government and build the university quickly.

Meanwhile, the Parliament agreed on a request and set next Thursday for a special session to discuss the report of Financial and Economic Committee on the proposed amendments of Public Tenders Law.

By: Nihal Sharaf and Abubakar A. Ibrahim Arab Times Staff

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