CPJ Delegation Urges Kuwait to Free Remaining Imprisoned Journalists

Washington, April 2, 1999 — A high-level delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) met today with Kuwait’s Ambassador Dr. Muhammad al-Sabah to urge the release of imprisoned journalists Fawwaz Muhammad al-Awadi Bessisso and Ibtisam Berto Sulaiman al-Dakhil, who have been held since 1991. They are the last remaining journalists in prison in Kuwait, which had imprisoned 17 reporters and editors following the Gulf War for their work with the Iraqi occupation newspaper Al-Nida’.

“Nearly a decade after the Gulf War, it is an opportune time for Kuwait to close this painful chapter and release the remaining imprisoned journalists,” said Peter Arnett of CNN, a member of CPJ’s board of directors, at today’s meeting.

Arnett was joined by CPJ executive director Ann K. Cooper, and Middle East program coordinator Joel Campagna. The delegation welcomed the release in February of three Jordanian journalists who were also convicted and sentenced to life for their work with Al-Nida’. The journalists — Abdel Rahman al-Husseini, Usamah Suhail Abdallah Hussein, and Ahmad Abed Mustafa — were freed after receiving a pardon from Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah. Fifteen journalists who had been convicted and imprisoned for their work with Al-Nida’ have been released since 1996 — many as a result of the emir’s annual pardon, which coincides with Kuwait’s celebration of National Day and its liberation from Iraqi occupation.

“The recent releases are a very encouraging sign,” said Cooper. “We hope that Fawwaz Muhammad al-Awadi Bessisso and Ibtisam Berto Sulaiman al-Dakhil will shortly regain their freedom.”

In June 1991, Bessisso and al-Dakhil were sentenced to life in prison for their work with Al-Nida’, which was established by Iraq following its occupation of Kuwait in 1990. The two journalists were taken into custody after Kuwait’s liberation and charged with collaboration. They were tried along with al-Husseini, Hussein, and Mustafa in a martial law court beginning on May 19, 1991. Their trial failed to comply with international standards of justice. The defendants were reportedly tortured during their interrogations. Their defense — that they were coerced into working for the Iraqi newspaper — was not rebutted by prosecutors. On June 16, 1991, Bessisso, al-Dakhil, and the three other journalists were sentenced to death. Ten days later, all martial-law death sentences were commuted to life terms, following international protests.

At the conclusion of today’s meeting, the ambassador said, “I am hopeful that we will be in a position to say that there will be no one in jail from the Iraqi occupation in the near future.”