Kuwait's parliament Wednesday backed legislation stipulating 10-year jail terms and fines of up to $165,000 for online crimes, especially those related to terrorism, despite warnings that this could undermine freedoms.
Twenty-eight members, including cabinet ministers, supported the law in a first vote, while eight were against and two abstained. A second and final vote is due after two weeks.
Justice Minister Yacoub al-Sane said the law is needed to fill a legal vacuum and regulate the use of online services such as Twitter. He said similar laws apply in many European countries.
But several MPs warned the law is aimed at curbing freedoms of expression and speech, and will send many Kuwaitis to jail.
The lowest penalty under the law would be a six-month jail sentence and a $6,600 fine (5,860 euros) for illegally "infiltrating a computer or an electronic network".
It stipulates a 10-year jail term for creating a website for a "terrorist" group or publishing news about the group on the Internet that aims to raise funds.
The same penalty applies to money laundering and publishing how to manufacture explosives or other tools that can be used in attacks.
Several MPs attacked the law.
"If this law is passed, I think most Kuwaitis will end up in jail," independent MP Jamal al-Omar said.
"The law includes very dangerous penalties. Some people have been sent to jail for five years for just one or two tweets," he said.
Shiite MP Saleh Ashour called the law "extremely dangerous".
"Is it logical to send a young man to prison for 10 years for just expressing a political opinion or speaking against a sacred figure?" Ashour asked.
"Where in Europe are people jailed for 10 years for speaking against the head of state or prime minister?"
"Under this law, people won't be able to talk otherwise they go to jail," Ashour said.
Kuwaiti courts have handed down prison sentences to several opposition activists, former lawmakers and Twitter users for remarks deemed insulting to the emir or on other charges.
Pro-government MP Saadun Hammad, who backs the law, said: "In some Arab countries, people who speak against the head of state disappear. Here they are sent for trial."