Death threat to Christian convert

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A KuwaitiI businessman who converted to Christianity could face a "death penalty" after being convicted of apostasy by an Islamic religious court.

Robert Hussein, 44, who changed his name from Qambar Ali after his conversion, has already lost his family and his business because of his decision, British supporters claimed yesterday. Pressure from them has helped secure an appeal hearing at a Kuwaiti civil court in September, where they hope the conviction will be overturned.

But Mr Hussein has been left in fear of his life. Under Islamic law, if a sane Muslim renounces his religion and refuses to "repent", there is no penalty for another Muslim who kills him. An imam could issue a death warrant placing a duty on any Muslim to kill Mr Hussein.

Franklin Evans, a British barrister who has visited Mr Hussein in Kuwait, told Radio 4's Today programme: "It is open season. He has lost his wife, his children, his home, his business, his bank accounts. He has recently had his passport confiscated. That has left him lonely, isolated, depressed and scared."

The prosecution against him was brought privately after Mr Hussein told newspapers of his conversion to publicise his wife's refusal to allow him to visit his two children. Under Islamic law, she was forced to separate from him when he became a Christian. Mohammed al-Jadai, one of the prosecuting lawyers, said: "We will not permit him to harm the feelings of Muslims. He provoked the feelings of Muslims, telling the newspapers about his conversion and distorting Islam's image."

Mr Hussein asked for the case to be heard in a constitutional court on the grounds that Kuwait's constitution guarantees freedom of belief.

Christians yesterday accused the Kuwaiti government of "unacceptable" behaviour and urged the British government to intervene on Mr Hussein's behalf.

Donald Anderson, Labour MP for Swansea East, said: "It is intolerable that religious freedom is so ignored." He claimed the Foreign Office would not intervene because of Britain's commercial interests in the region. "If our country means anything in the world, we should, with like-minded democratic countries, seek to embarrass countries like this into conforming with international laws. As a Christian, I feel duty-bound to highlight cases of fellow Christians who face danger simply because of their religion."

The Kuwaiti government had pledged religious tolerance at the end of the Gulf War. "The Kuwaiti government owe us and the Western allies for their very existence," said Mr Anderson.