KUWAIT CITY- Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, has refused to sign a bill passed by parliament stipulating the death penalty for major religious offences, sources in the assembly said Wednesday.
The oil-rich Gulf state's government has sent the bill back to parliament on Wednesday, sources said, indicating that it had been rejected by the emir.
The emir has the power to refuse bills passed by the elected parliament, but the assembly can override the rejection by passing the bill again with a two-thirds majority of the house membership of 49 MPs and 16 cabinet ministers.
The bill, passed by parliament last month, stipulates that Muslims who curse God, the Muslim holy book Koran, all prophets and the wives of Islam's Prophet Mohammed will be punished by death or life in jail.
The bill introduced two new articles to the Gulf state's penal code specifically to stiffen penalties for such offences. Non-Muslims who commit the same offence face a jail term of not less than 10 years, according to the bill.
Defendants who repent in court will be spared the death penalty, but will get a jail sentence for five years and a fine of $36,000 or one of them, while repentance by those who repeat the crime is not acceptable, the bill says.
The move to harden penalties for religious crimes came after authorities in March arrested Shiite tweeter Hamad al-Naqi for allegedly cursing the Prophet Mohammed, his wife Aisha and some companions.
Naqi was on Monday sentenced by the lower court to 10 years in jail, according to his lawyer Khaled al-Shatti who said he will challenge the term in the appeals court.
Kuwaiti courts have in the past several months jailed activists from both sects over religious offences.
Sectarian tensions have flared in Kuwait between the Sunni majority and Shiites, who form about a third of the native population of 1.17 million, reflecting rising regional tensions between the two Islamic sects.
Offences including drug trafficking and murder earn the death penalty in Kuwait. However, the last execution was implemented in the Gulf country in May 2007.