Government restrictions primarily affected non-Sunni citizens and residents. Courts sentenced several individuals to time in prison for religious offenses, most notably inciting sectarianism and violating the law related to “national unity.” Municipal authorities continued to be the main obstacle for some registered religious groups to secure land for new houses of worship.
On July 21, the Court of Cassation upheld a 2012 lower court ruling convicting Hamad al-Naqi, a Shia citizen, of posting comments deemed insulting to Islam and defamatory of Sunni rulers in the region to his social media account. The Court of Appeals had previously exonerated al-Naqi of one original count of insulting other religions, which is a crime under the penal code, but confirmed the lower court’s 10-year prison sentence. The Court of Cassation’s ruling was final and no other appeals are available to al-Naqi.
In April the Court of Appeals reversed a prior acquittal by a lower court and fined scholar Abdullah al-Nafeesi for insulting the Shia doctrine and violating the law on national unity in a speech given during a private gathering. A government official said in January several imams would be referred to investigation for stirring sectarianism and harming national unity through social networks. The official also stated that any imam who criticized the MAIA would be referred for prosecution. The government suspended an imam in January for complaining on social media about the quality of services provided to mosques by the MAIA.
The media reported multiple incidents of individuals being detained for practicing black magic and sorcery or possessing items used in those practices, which are considered inconsistent with Islamic law. For example, in May authorities reportedly brought charges for black magic against a non-citizen domestic worker for possessing the amniotic sac from her son’s birth sixteen years ago, which she had been carrying as a good luck charm. The employer deemed it an object of sorcery, and media reported he and his brother tied up and beat the woman before turning her over to the police; authorities did not charge either the employer or his brother for the attack. The domestic worker was detained at a police station for two days before her employer took her out and “sold” her to another labor agency. The domestic worker was pursuing charges against her former employer at the end of the year.
In August the government shut down a local play for allegedly insulting religion when one of the actors improvised several scenes that activists felt demeaned Shia religious practices. Although the actor who improvised the scenes, himself a Shia, apologized on social media, the government filed a lawsuit against the play’s producers and referred them to the prosecuting authorities.
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 and Iran) due to the lack of Shia jurisprudence courses and Shia professors at the College of Islamic Law at Kuwait University, the country’s only institution to train imams. This resulted in a lack of qualified individuals to staff Shia courts which are charged with overseeing personal status and family issues, as well as a backlog of cases. In 2003, the government approved a request from the Shia community to establish a Shia Court of Cassation (equivalent to a supreme court). This court, however, was not yet established, largely because of the unavailability of appropriate training for Shia locally, according to Shia leaders. There were no Shia professors at the College of Islamic Law.
There were seven officially recognized churches: the National Evangelical (Protestant), Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic (Melkite), Coptic Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, and Anglican Churches. These churches worked with a variety of government entities in conducting their affairs, including the MOSAL for visas for clergy and other staff, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Municipality of Kuwait for building permits and land concerns, and the Ministry of Interior for residency permits, security, and police protection of places of worship. The government imposed quotas on the number of clergy and staff of officially recognized religious groups brought into the country. If a quota was reached, however, and registered groups requested more slots, they were granted. Over the last several decades, no new churches have been recognized. During the year, however, one Christian church received approval from all of the necessary ministries and prepared to publish its notice in the government gazette announcing its intentions to form a church in the country.
The Indian Orthodox Church, Mar Thoma, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church continued to operate without legal recognition, despite attempts to gain recognition in prior years. The unrecognized religious groups were allowed to operate in rented villas, private homes, or the facilities of recognized churches. Members of these congregations continued to report they were able to worship without government interference provided they did not disturb their neighbors or violate laws regarding assembly and proselytizing. Authorities prohibited these groups from displaying exterior signs, such as a cross or the congregation’s name, and from engaging in public activities.
The government did not recognize religious groups that it deemed not sanctioned in the Quran, such as Bahais, Buddhists, Hindus, and Sikhs. Members of unrecognized religious groups were unable to apply for visas and residence permits for clergy and other staff, build places of worship or other religious facilities, or request security and police protection for a place of worship. 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.
Recognized churches that applied for licenses to build new places of worship had to wait years for approval. In the past, such applications were denied outright or on technical grounds. Some of the recognized Christian churches considered their existing facilities inadequate to serve their communities and faced significant problems in obtaining approval from municipal councils to construct new facilities.
There were reports that authorities, usually in response to complaints from neighbors over crowded streets and parking during worship services, pressured landlords who had leased property to unlicensed churches. One landlord required a congregation to either move from its rented villa or purchase it, as the landlord did not want any further pressure from neighbors and local authorities over the existence of the church in her villa.
Members of the Shia community expressed concern over the relative scarcity of Shia mosques due to the government’s delay in approving repairs to existing mosques or for the construction of new ones. Since 2001, the government granted licenses and approved the construction of fewer than 10 new Shia mosques. There were a total of 35 Shia mosques nationally, with one mosque approved in 2012 still under construction, funded by the Shia community. According to data from MAIA, Shia mosques made up only 2.5 percent of the nearly 1,400 mosques in Kuwait.
The government allowed Shia worshipers to gather peacefully in public spaces to attend sermons and eulogies during Muharram and Ashura and provided security to Shia neighborhoods. Licenses for tents or tables had to be obtained from the municipalities, and the municipal government had the right to withdraw the license of any husseiniyas (a Shia hall for religious commemorations) that did not comply with municipality rules. The government did not permit public reenactments of the martyrdom of Hussein or public marches in commemoration of Ashura.
The government funded and exercised direct control over Sunni religious institutions. It also provided topics for weekly sermons to both Sunni and Shia mosques through the MAIA’s website, to which imams were expected to adhere. The government appointed Sunni imams, monitored their Friday sermons, and financed construction of Sunni mosques. In March the then minister of justice and awqaf and Islamic affairs warned local imams to avoid discussing political issues during their sermons or any other time while in the country. In June an Egyptian imam was deported for allegedly commenting on the Egyptian election during a sermon.
The government financially supported Sunni Muslims who proselytized among foreign residents.
The government did not permit the establishment of non-Islamic religious publishing companies, although several churches published religious materials solely for their congregations’ use. The government permitted a private company to import Bibles and other Christian religious materials for use solely by government-recognized church congregations with the stipulation that any content not insult Islam. Congregations with a need for material in languages other than Arabic or English reported no problems independently importing their materials.
The Ministry of Education instructed school administrators to expunge and ban fiction and non-fiction English-language books and textbooks having any references to the Holocaust or Israel. Schools were only able to teach and celebrate Muslim holidays. 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 military/security apparatus, although not in all branches and often not in leadership positions. Some Shia continued to allege that a “glass ceiling” of discrimination prevented them from obtaining leadership positions in some of these public sector organizations, including the security services. The prime minister appointed one Shia minister to the cabinet, despite the customary practice of appointing two. The amir had a few senior-level Shia advisors.