30 Apr 2012 By Jonathan Luxmoore
OXFORD, England (CNS) — The bishop
overseeing the church in southern Arabia predicted
Catholic life will remain safe in most Gulf states despite
threatened new restrictions in Kuwait.
Bishop Paul Hinder, who heads the Apostolic
Vicariate of Southern Arabia based in Abu Dhabi, United
Arab Emirates, said that although the church lacks
resources, its most important priority is to “keep what it
“Things are far from ideal in some countries, but
we can live and avoid major problems if we don’t put at
risk the relatively good understandings we enjoy,” Bishop
The apostolic vicariate was established by the
Vatican in 2011.
The Swiss-born Capuchin Franciscan prelate
spoke after legislators in Kuwait acted to curb Christian
religious rights by voting to make blasphemy against the
Prophet Mohammed a capital offense.
Bishop Hinder told Catholic News Service April
26 that religious rights long had been ambiguous in
Kuwait, which was liberated from Iraqi occupation by the
United States and its allies in the 1991 Gulf War.
However, he added, the position of Christians was
unlikely to “change essentially” in neighboring United
Arab Emirates and Oman despite disruptions in church life
in Yemen because of recent political turmoil.
“We’re in touch with government advisers, so
there’s no communication problem,” the 70-year-old
Kuwait’s 50-member National Assembly voted
overwhelmingly to impose the death penalty for
blasphemy in an April 12 legal amendment that still
requires final approval by the ruling emir, Sabah Al-
Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.
The Gulfnews agency said support for the harsher
penalty had increased after the arrest of a local man for
allegedly insulting Mohammed on a social networking
site. The agency also reported that a Kuwaiti writer had
been sentenced to seven years of hard labor in mid-April
for saying his country, which still uses the death penalty,
“suffers from sectarian struggles and conflicts” in another
If enforced, the amendment will bring Kuwait,
whose 350,000 mostly expatriate Christians make up 6
percent of the population, into line with Pakistan and
neighboring Saudi Arabia.
The amendment was condemned by human rights
groups, including Amnesty International, which said it
was concerned about a rise in criminal prosecutions for
blasphemy, especially against users of social media. The
organization said the crackdown could have serious
consequences for followers of non-Muslim faiths.
The move is the latest to strengthen Islam in the
oil-rich Kuwait since Islamist groupings gained a majority
in February parliamentary elections.
In March, the newly formed al-Adala (Justice)
Bloc tabled legislation to limit Christian churches and
non-Muslim places of worship in Kuwait and proposed
constitutional amendments to impose Islamic law, or
Tags: Middle East Christians Middle East Arabian Peninsula Kuwait