KUWAIT CITY (AP) — A court sentenced a student to 10 years imprisonment Tuesday for issuing an audio tape that insulted the companions of the Prophet Mohammad, his lawyer said.
Yasser al-Habib, 21, caused an uproar in Kuwait last year when he recorded and distributed a tape that was widely regarded as defaming the Prophet’s disciples, including the caliphs Abu Baker al-Sedeeq and Omar bin al-Khattab. Al-Habib is a Muslim Shiite and most Kuwaitis belong to the Sunni sect of Islam, which revers the Prophet’s companions.
On Tuesday, a criminal court convicted al-Habib in absentia of “insulting the companions of the Prophet,” his lawyer, Khaled al-Shatti, told The Associated Press. The sentence could not be immediately confirmed with court officials.
Al-Habib, who was studying the Arabic language at university, has been on the run since February when he was released in an amnesty for prisoners to mark Kuwait’s national day. The authorities said his release was a mistake, but they have not managed to capture him. He was serving a one-year sentence on the same charge from a misdemeanor court.
Lawyer Al-Shatti would not reveal the contents of the tape, but he said al-Habib was “expressing his opinion freely” about the Prophet’s disciples.
Islam split into Sunni and Shiite sects soon after the death of the Prophet in 632 because of a dispute over who should lead the Muslim community. Shiites believe the prophet’s relatives should have taken the leadership, and not those who ultimately did — such as Abu Baker al-Sedeeq and Omar bin al-Khattab.
Shiites are in the majority in Iran, Iraq and Bahrain, but they form the minority in most Arab countries.
Kuwait’s Shiites were emboldened by the empowerment of Shiites in neighboring Iraq after the April 2003 fall of the dictator Saddam Hussein, who had persecuted them.
Sectarianism has not been a divisive issue in Kuwait where Shiites are represented in parliament and can practice their rituals. But in recent months, members of either sects have circulated recordings and books that are seen as insulting the other’s interpretation of Islam.
Initially, al-Habib stood trial in a misdemeanor court where a complainant accused him of making a recording that promoted strife between Shiites and Sunnis. In January, the court sentenced al-Habib to one year in jail and a fine, but the appeals court returned the case to the prosecutor general, who referred it to the criminal court.
Al-Shatti said Tuesday he could not appeal against the latest sentence because it was handed down in absentia.