There were reports of imprisonment and detention. Government restrictions primarily affected non-Sunni citizens and residents. Municipal authorities continued to thwart efforts of some registered religious groups to secure land for new houses of worship. Courts sentenced several individuals to time in prison for religious offenses.
On June 10, the Court of First Instance convicted Huda al-Ajmi on four state security charges, including publicly denigrating Shia doctrine and belief. The court sentenced al-Ajmi to 11 years in prison.
On October 28, the Court of Appeals upheld a 2012 lower court ruling convicting Hamad al-Naqi, a Shia citizen, of posting comments deemed insulting to Islam and defamatory of Sunni Gulf rulers to his social media account. The Court of Appeals exonerated al-Naqi of one original count of fomenting sectarianism, but confirmed the lower court’s 10-year prison sentence.
On November 15, municipal authorities forcibly removed a number of tents, including ones with government-issued permits, which the Shia community erected to mark the Ashura (the Shia day of mourning for the martyrdom of Hussein) commemoration, celebrated November 14. Several hundred Shia protested the action, and the police dispersed the demonstration using tear gas. The council of ministers condemned the municipal authorities’ actions, and the minister of state for municipal affairs formed a committee to investigate the incident.
On November 18, a lower court convicted Musab Shamsah, a Shia citizen, of insulting religion in a May 5 social media posting. The court sentenced Shamsah to five years in prison.
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.
In November the interior ministry deported an Iraqi Shia cleric, Hussein Faheed, for allegedly defaming important figures in Sunni Islam during sermons he delivered. In October Member of Parliament Abdurrahman al-Jeeran called on the government to ban the sale of “idols,” referring specifically to statuary from the pre-Islamic period, which he said were inconsistent with Islamic law. Also in October several parliamentarians deemed some planned Halloween events at local children’s centers and stores “un-Islamic.” As a result of the controversy, several businesses canceled the events.
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 at Kuwait University’s College of Islamic Law, the country’s only institution to train imams. This resulted in a lack of qualified individuals to staff Shia courts that are charged with overseeing personal status and family issues. There were 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.
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 groups worked with a variety of government entities in conducting their affairs. They included the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor for visas and residence permits 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 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 usually granted. In addition to the registered Christian churches, there were also many unrecognized Christian groups with lower numbers of adherents.
The government did not recognize religious groups not sanctioned in the Quran, such as the 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.
Churches that applied for licenses to build new places of worship had to wait years for approval. In some cases, such applications were denied or denied 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 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 under construction. In August the housing affairs minister rejected the construction of another new Shia mosque in the Saad al-Abdullah neighborhood even though the plan had secured consent from municipal authorities.
The government funded and exercised direct control over Sunni religious institutions. The government appointed Sunni imams, monitored their Friday sermons, and financed construction of Sunni mosques. In October, for example, the government said it would suspend any imam who refused to record his Friday sermons, as required by regulations. In some instances, Sunni imams were suspended for delivering sermons whose content the government deemed inflammatory. In September the government suspended five imams for breaking government rules against engaging in politics while giving sermons, and in November three additional imams were suspended for addressing political and sectarian issues during their sermons. The government did not fund or control Shia mosques, which the Shia community funded.
The government allowed Shia worshipers to gather peacefully in public spaces to attend sermons and eulogies during Ashura and provided security to Shia neighborhoods. The government did not, however, permit public reenactments of the martyrdom of Hussein or public marches in commemoration of Ashura.
Among Christian religious groups not legally recognized were the Indian Orthodox Church, Mar Thoma, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The unrecognized 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. In one instance, church attendees said security services were increasingly enforcing restrictions on the holding of any unauthorized public gatherings, including religious ones.
Municipal authorities obstructed religious gatherings in private spaces and pressured landlords who had leased property to unlicensed churches. One landlord forced a congregation to move from its villa, allegedly at the behest of local authorities.
The government did not permit the establishment of non-Islamic religious publishing companies, although several churches published religious materials solely for their own congregations’ use. 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 not insult Islam.
The Ministry of Education instructed school administrators to expunge and ban fiction and non-fiction English-language books and textbooks having 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 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 public sector organizations, including the security services. Since 2006, the prime minister has appointed two Shia ministers to each cabinet, including the current one. The amir had several senior-level Shia advisors.