There were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including reports of imprisonment and detention. Government restrictions primarily affected non-Sunni citizens and residents. Municipal authorities became more active in obstructing religious gatherings at unofficial, private spaces. Courts sentenced several individuals to time in prison for religious offenses and there were reports of religious bias and discrimination against religious groups in the issuances of legal verdicts.
On February 13, police arrested writer Mohammed Al-Mulaifi on charges that included denigrating Shia doctrine. On April 9, the Court of First Instance sentenced Al-Mulaifi to seven years in prison. On May 31, the Court of Appeals reduced Al-Mulaifi’s sentence from seven years to six months, and he was released on October 9 after completing his sentence.
On March 27, police arrested Hamad Al-Naqi, a Shia, for posting comments to his Twitter account considered blasphemous and insulting to Sunni Gulf rulers. On June 4, the Court of First Instance sentenced Al-Naqi to 10 years in prison. Al-Naqi remained in prison at year’s end pending a decision from the court of appeals. Largely in response to this case, parliament voted to make blasphemy a capital crime for Muslims; however, the Council of Ministers rejected this amendment to the criminal code.
The media reported multiple incidents of individuals being detained for practicing black magic and sorcery, which are considered inconsistent with Islamic law, or for possessing items used in those practices. In one such case, a man was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labor followed by deportation.
In March 2011 the Ministry of Information announced it was filing charges against Al-Adalah satellite channel and the newspaper Al-Dar, which refers to itself as the “voice of the Shia,” for referring to the Saudi-led military intervention in Bahrain as an “invasion. ” In 2012 the Ministry of Information twice suspended Al-Dar’s operations. In addition, on March 12 a criminal court convicted Al-Dar’s editor-in-chief, Abd al‑Hussain al‑Sultan, of raising sectarian strife and undermining national security. Al-Sultan received a suspended six-month prison sentence and was fined 1,000 KD ($3,600). On May 14, a court of appeal increased the sentence to a one-year suspended prison sentence. The government temporarily closed other media outlets for similar reasons.
The government did not permit the establishment of non-Sunni religious training institutions for clergy. Shia who wanted to serve as imams had to seek training and education abroad (primarily in Iraq, Iran, and to a lesser degree Syria) due to the lack of Shia jurisprudence courses at Kuwait University’s College of Islamic Law, the country’s only institution to train imams. There are no Shia professors at the College of Islamic Law at Kuwait University. The government prohibited non-Muslim missionaries from working in the country and prohibited them from proselytizing Muslims; however, they were allowed to serve non-Muslim congregations.
The government imposed quotas on the number of clergy and staff recognized groups could bring into the country. Religious groups found the quotas insufficient for the needs of their congregations, experienced difficulties obtaining visas and residence permits, and found authorities to be unresponsive.
On August 9, the Roman Catholic Church announced that it would move the seat of the Vicariate of Northern Arabia from Kuwait to Bahrain, in part due to the difficulties it faced in obtaining adequate numbers of visas in Kuwait. The Vicariate had been in the country since 1953.
Foreign religious leaders of unrecognized religious groups had to enter the country as non-religious workers, which required them to minister to their congregations outside of their regular non-religious employment.
Churches that applied for licenses to build new places of worship often had to wait for approval for a substantial period of time, sometimes years. In some cases, such applications were denied. Some applications were allegedly refused based on technical grounds. Most of the recognized Christian churches considered their existing facilities inadequate to serve their communities and faced significant problems in obtaining proper approvals from municipal councils to construct new facilities. Members of the Shia community expressed concern over the relative scarcity of Shia mosques due to the government’s slowness in approving repairs to existing mosques or the construction of new ones. Since 2001 the government granted licenses and approved the construction of six new Shia mosques. Including these six, there are a total of 35 Shia mosques nationally.
On February 17, Member of Parliament Osama Al-Munawer said that all existing Christian churches in the country should be destroyed. He later revised his comments, claiming that he only advocated curtailing the building of new facilities. The minister of Awqaf and Islamic affairs and members of the ruling family officially condemned the remarks, calling them a violation of constitutionally guaranteed freedoms of religious belief and practice.
The government exercised direct control of Sunni religious institutions. The government appointed Sunni imams, monitored their Friday sermons, and financed construction of Sunni mosques. In some instances, Sunni imams were suspended for delivering sermons whose content the government deemed inflammatory. The government did not exert this control over Shia mosques, which the Shia community, not the government, funded. Some parliamentarians called for the government to regulate the Shia practice of khums (where the faithful pay one-fifth of their profits to their religious authority) and to supervise hussainiyas (Shia community religious gathering places), but no action was taken.
The government allowed Shia worshipers to gather peacefully in public spaces to attend sermons and eulogies during Ashura (the Shia day of mourning for the martyrdom of Hussein) and provided security to Shia neighborhoods. However, the government did not permit public reenactments of the martyrdom of Hussein or public marches in commemoration of Ashura during the year.
While seven Christian churches were legally recognized, others were not, including the Indian Orthodox, Mar Thoma, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints (Mormons), and Seventh-day Adventist Church. These religious groups were allowed to operate in rented villas, private homes, or the facilities of recognized churches. Members of these congregations reported that they were able to worship without government interference provided they did not disturb their neighbors or violate laws regarding assembly and proselytizing. Authorities also prohibited these groups from displaying exterior signs, such as a cross or the congregation’s name, and from engaging in public activities.
Municipal authorities obstructed religious gatherings in private spaces and pressured landlords who had leased property to unlicensed churches. One landlord suddenly terminated the lease to a private villa that a congregation had used for worship gatherings for seven years. Another landlord told a congregation it would have to pay an exorbitant fine each month if it continued to use the villa it was renting as a church.
The government did not permit the establishment of non-Islamic religious publishing companies. Several churches published religious materials solely for their congregations’ use despite this restriction. The government permitted a private company, the Book House Company Ltd., to import Bibles and other Christian religious materials for use solely by government-recognized church congregations with the stipulation that any content did not insult Islam. The Book House Company Ltd. was the only company licensed to import such materials.
The government barred churches from bringing Bibles and other Christian literature to prisoners in detention facilities. However, some prisoners said they were allowed to read Bibles freely.
School administrators have issued instructions to teachers to expunge English-language textbooks of any references to Israel or the Holocaust. Teachers at British schools were not allowed to teach comparative religion, although this unit is a required part of the British curriculum.
Shia were represented in the police force and some branches of the military/security apparatus, although not in all branches and often not in leadership positions. Some Shia alleged that a “glass ceiling” of discrimination prevented them from obtaining leadership positions in some of these organizations. However, since 2006 the prime minister has appointed two Shia ministers to each cabinet, including the current one. The emir had several senior-level Shia advisors.