Kuwaiti information minister announced on Tuesday the government will introduce laws this year to regulate the use of social networking sites such as Twitter, amid public outcry over cases of alleged blasphemy and sectarianism.
Kuwaiti lawmakers passed a legal amendment earlier this month, making blasphemy of God and Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) punishable by death.
Twitter is extremely popular in the country where many public figures use the micro-blogging site to debate politics, gossip and spread news. The government lacks the capability to censor social networks like Twitter. Media observers say the country’s legal framework is void of specific laws for prosecution.
“The government is now in the process of establishing laws that will allow government entities to regulate the use of the different new media outlets such as Twitter in order to safeguard the cohesiveness of the population and society,” Information Minister Sheikh Mohammed Al Mubarak Al Sabah said.
Comments deemed inciting sectarian tension are also scrutinised by the government.
Kuwait has so far relied on its penal code to try people accused of slander or libel.
A court earlier this month sentenced a Sunni Muslim writer to seven years in jail and imposed a fine of around $18,000 after he was found guilty of insulting the country’s Shia minority on Twitter.
In another case, a Shia was arrested by the police last month on suspicion of insulting Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) on Twitter. His lawyer insisted that the Twitter account was hacked and that his client meant no offence.
Both cases triggered small street protests.
Sectarian tensions have rocked the country’s nascent political spectrum during the last few months.
“I have been asking the parliamentarians to give this priority,” Sheikh Mohammed said on the sidelines of a parliament session, assuring that measures will be taken to implement the law this year.
Mohammad Al Dallal, Islamist Member of Parliament and an expert of legal matters related to the media, said the legislation could be passed as early as June given the consensus among fellow deputies.
“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,” he said.