Kuwaiti in court for converting to Jesus

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Religious Affairs Correspondent

Carrying a copy of the Bible, and wearing a cross around his neck, 45- year-old Qambar Ali yesterday appeared in a Kuwaiti court, charged with converting from Islam to Christianity.

If convicted, Mr Ali faces loss of some civil rights, chief among them the expectation that if he is killed, his murderers will be punished. Under Islamic law, if a sane Muslim renounces his religion and refuses to repent, there is no penalty for another Muslim who kills him on ground of his apostasy.

If found guilty, Mr Ali will lose the rights of inheritance, the right to be married to a Muslim, and custody of his children. The prosecution against him has been brought privately. Mohammed al-Jadai, one of three lawyers prosecuting him, told the court: "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." said Mr al-Jadai. He said that if the court wanted a precedent, it could study a Cairo court's decision last year to end the happy marriage of an Egyptian professor, Nasr Abu Zeid, on the grounds of apostasy, although he denied them.

Mr Ali confirmed to the Kuwaiti court yesterday he was now a Christian but told the panel it had no jurisdiction in the case. He asked the court to send the case to the constitutional court on the grounds that Kuwait's constitution guarantees freedom of belief.

The conversion contributed to the break-up of Mr Ali's marriage last year. He says he changes accommodation often as a security measure, cannot work and has not seen his children for five months because of family opposition.

Mr Ali said he had told newspapers of his conversion to publicise what he called his ex-wife's illegal refusal to allow him to visit his six- year-old daughter and four-year-old son.

The judges will rule on 17 April whether they are competent to hear further sessions of the case.