Kuwaiti Christian to Battle in Court for Civil Rights, Life

Article excerpt

Robert Hussein, a Kuwaiti convert to Christianity, goes on trial in civil court in Kuwait City tomorrow for apostasy - abandonment of Islam.

If convicted, he faces the forced dissolution of his marriage and the loss of certain civil rights, including the right to see his children.

He fears that some Muslims would interpret a guilty ruling as permission to kill him because there is no punishment for killing an apostate of Islam.

Among Muslim theologians in the Middle East, there is agreement that abandoning Islam is punishable by death.

Because of death threats, Mr. Hussein never spends more than a few days at any location.

"I am an alien in my own country," Mr. Hussein, 45, said by telephone Friday from a safe house in Kuwait. "For me, between Saddam Hussein and this government, there is no difference. I was a prisoner under Saddam. I am still a prisoner."

Mr. Hussein, who changed his name from Hussein Qamber Ali, has not seen his son and daughter, ages 4 and 6, in six months. His wife refuses to speak with him. His father died in December, and the family forbade him to attend the funeral.

His brother has taken control of the family construction business, a firm he once ran.

He has been denounced in the Kuwaiti parliament, mosques and newspapers. He said he cannot even find a lawyer to defend him. One asked for $1 million to represent him.

Fifteen members of Congress - including Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Doug Bereuter, Nebraska Republican - have signed a letter to the emir of Kuwait, Sheik Jabir al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah, requesting information on the case.

There has been no answer.

"It seems to me that the United States, which liberated Kuwait, ought to have some influence there," said Frank Calzon of the human rights organization Freedom House. "The United States ought to be doing everything possible to prevent this type of outrage."

A State Department source said the United States is closely monitoring the case and "has done something" to register official interest with the Kuwaiti government. The source would not elaborate on what steps have been taken.

A spokesman for former President George Bush in Houston said Mr. …