KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait's parliament on Thursday passed a bill stipulating the death penalty for Muslims who curse God, the Muslim holy book, all prophets and the wives of Islam's Prophet Mohammed.
Forty MPs, including cabinet ministers, voted for the bill in the second and final round of voting, against six opponents who included all five Shiite MPs present and liberal MP Mohammad al-Sager.
The bill introduces 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 capital punishment 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.
"We do not want to execute people with opinions or thought because Islam respects these people... But we need this legislation because incidents of cursing God have increased. We need to deter them," opposition MP Ali al-Deqbasi said during the debate.
The bill becomes effective after the government accepts it, the emir signs it and it is published in the official gazette within one month.
Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs Jamal Shehab told reporters after the vote that the government will accept and implement the law.
Shiite MPs also demanded that the bill impose the death penalty on anyone who curses their sect's 12 revered Imams, but the Sunni-dominated parliament rejected their request.
Shiite MP Abdulhameed Dashti said the bill breaches the Kuwaiti constitution and the principles of Islam.
"Why are we trying to show Islam as a religion of death and blood when it is actually the opposite of that," Dashti said.
The move to stiffen penalties for religious crimes came after authorities in March arrested a Shiite tweeter for allegedly cursing the Prophet Mohammed, his wife and some companions.
The suspect, Hamad al-Naqi, is being detained pending trial later this month.
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.