On April 14, 2016, Sheikha al-Jassem, a scholar of philosophy at Kuwait University and a human rights activist, was charged with blasphemy as a result of a complaint filed against her following an interview she gave on March 8, 2016.
In the interview, Professor al-Jassem reportedly criticized religious extremism, and asserted that Kuwait should be governed by its constitution, not Quranic law. Following the interview, a Kuwaiti lawyer filed a complaint with the public prosecutor, reportedly alleging that Professor al-Jassem’s remarks insulted Islam and caused him “psychological damage.” On April 14, the public prosecutor questioned Professor al-Jassem for two hours about the allegations, which she denied. Professor al-Jassem was released after the questioning; however, if tried and convicted, she could be sentenced to up to one year in prison.
In addition to the pending trial, on March 11, several members of the Kuwaiti National Assembly reportedly called on the Minister of Higher Education to exclude Professor al-Jassem from Kuwait University and ban her from teaching. As of this report, it is unclear whether the university has taken action against Professor al-Jassem.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution of and reported calls for professional retaliation against a scholar as a result of nonviolent, expressive activity. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with scholars’ expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Prosecution and other forms of retaliation aimed at limiting such expressive activity undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.
Update: On May 31, 2016, Kuwait’s general prosecutor reportedly dismissed the blasphemy charges brought against Professor al-Jassem, stating that “freedom of speech cannot be restrained and not every discussion on religious matters [can be considered as] blasphemy.”