Philosopher Faces Blasphemy Charges (updated)

Philosophy professor Sheikha al-Jassem (Shaikha Binjasim) is facing charges of blasphemy and the possible loss of her faculty position at Kuwait University, owing to remarks she made in a television interview about freedom of conscience, the politicization of religion in Kuwait, and how the Kuwaiti constitution, not the Quran, is and should be the basis of law in Kuwait.

According to a report from the BBC, al-Jassem has been “summoned to the prosecutor’s office after legal complaints of blasphemy were filed against her.” If she is convicted, she could be jailed for up to a year. The report continues:

Her remarks provoked a storm of attacks against her, spearheaded by Islamist members of Kuwait’s parliament. “They were terrifying me—everywhere, not just from Kuwait, even from Saudi Arabia,” she told the BBC. “They were talking against me, they were saying bad things, they were ridiculing me. But I’m used to it now.”

Calls were made for Ms Jassem’s dismissal from Kuwait University, where she is a professor of philosophy. and a legal complaint was issued against her.

The public prosecutor told her that the complainant said he had been psychologically damaged by her remarks. Other legal complaints may also be filed.

You can watch a video of the interview at the Middle East Media Research Institute site.

Here is a partial transcript:

Q: Do you consider Kuwait to be a religious state or a democratic state?
A: Our source of authority is supposed to be the constitution. The constitution stipulates that the Kuwaiti regime is democratic… The Shari’a is ‘a source’ (for legislation) and not ‘the source’, like others want. Therefore, this question should not even be raised.
Q: But they say that the Quran, the Shari’a, and the religion are more important than our constitution.
A: This is the undoing of our democratic regime.
Q: According to them, this is a conservative Islamic state.
A: A citizen who thinks like that poses a danger to the state… his loyalties do not lie with Kuwait.

The BBC report says that “the public prosecutor still has the discretion to decide whether or not Ms Jassem will be put on trial.” However, the site Front Line Defenders says she is “facing trial” and has written a letter urging authorities in Kuwait to:

1. Immediately drop all charges against Shaikha Binjasim as it is believed that they are solely motivated by her legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of freedom of conscience and freedom of speech;
2. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Kuwait are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

You can obtain the whole text of the letter, along with the contact information for the Prime Minister’s office, here.

(Thanks to Graham Oddie for the pointer to the BBC article.)

UPDATE: You can follow Sheikha al-Jassem on Twitter: @philocoffee.

UPDATE (4/20/16): Dr. Jassem has again been summoned to the prosecutor’s office. She writes:

Yesterday I had a call from the prosecutor’s office telling me that I have to be present for interrogation Sunday morning because another person didn’t like what I said on my TV interview in March. It’s a blasphemy charge again. The first one is still hanging, I don’t know if the prosecutor is going to send it to court or just dismiss it. I hope both complaints will be dismissed.

UPDATE (4/21/16): Dr. Jassem was interviewed by the BBC’s News Hour radio program. You can listen to the interview by clicking “download MP3” at this page at the BBC’s site. Scroll forward to 18:15 for the start of the interview.

Sheikha al-Jassem

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