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Popular Kuwaiti blogger charged with blasphemy

Blogger and human rights activist Mohammed Al-Ajmi was freed pending trial yesterday after being held for a week.

Reporters Without Borders deplores last week's arrest of well-known Kuwaiti human rights activist and blogger Mohammed Al-Ajmi in connection with a tweet and calls for the withdrawal of the blasphemy charges brought against him. Better known by the blog name of Abo3asam, he was released the day before yesterday pending trial.

“Prosecuting this netizen over a tweet is absurd,” Reporters Without Borders assistant research director Virginie Dangles said. “The regime has again resumed its political of cracking down on outspoken dissidents.”

In the controversial tweet, which he posted on his Twitter account on 11 August, Ajmi criticized the Salafist group Al-Jamiya and accused its members of blindly following its religious leader, Hamad al-Uthman. He posted the tweet in response to the government's decision to strip the Muslim preacher Nabil Al-Awadi of his Kuwaiti citizenship.

As part of a growing crackdown, the government adopted a decree in July that allows it to withdraw Kuwaiti citizenship from any naturalized Kuwaiti who is deemed to pose a threat to national security and public order. Media owner Ahmed-Al Shemmari and ten other people, including the Muslim preacher Nabil Al-Awadi have been stripped of their citizenship.

Ajmi, who is a member of the National Committee for Monitoring Violations, was arrested on 27 August after been summoned and questioned at length by the Al-Samiya region's Criminal Investigation Department. Officials ordered him held for an initial period of 10 days pending investigation.

However, Ajmi is well known on social networks and has more than 115,000 followers on Twitter, and by 29 August, the “freedom for Abo Asam” hashtag (#الحرية_لبوعسم) had been used more than 8,000 times.

The next day, Ajmi began a hunger strike in protest against his arbitrary arrest. And on 31 August, activists and sympathizers demonstrated outside the national assembly on Irada Square to demand his release and the release of other detained activists.

This is by no means his first run-in with the authorities and he had already been arrested twice this year. The first time was in April, when he was accused of defaming Kuwait's emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah, before finally being acquitted. The second time was on 6 July, when he was held for a few hours for reporting human rights violations during a demonstration.

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