Kuwait’s press remains one of the more open in the Arab world. Newspapers often cover local political affairs aggressively and are not shy about criticizing senior officials. Nevertheless, journalists still practice self-censorship and avoid taking on the emir and other members of the ruling family.
The Press and Publications Law (PPL) has been used in recent years to prosecute journalists and suspend newspapers. Under the PPL, newspapers can be suspended and journalists jailed for sullying public morals, “disparaging God [and] the prophets,” or “violating the national interest.”
In the year’s most shocking incident, veteran journalist Hidaya Sultan al-Salem, the owner and editor of the weekly magazine Al-Majales, was murdered on her way to work when an armed assailant opened fire on her chauffer-driven car in Kuwait City in late March. The motive for the murder remained unclear.
The main suspect, a police officer named Khaled al-Azmi, admitted to the killing. However, he later recanted, saying police had forced him to confess. Early in the investigation, Kuwaiti authorities said that al-Azmi killed al-Salem in revenge for an Al-Majales article that allegedly insulted the women of his tribe. The article was written some eight months earlier, however, leading some to doubt that the officer would have waited that long to take his revenge.
Some observers speculated that alleged financial disputes within al-Salem’s family, or other alleged disputes with some of her employees, motivated the murder. In the last edition of Al-Majales before she was killed, according to press reports, al-Salem published an open letter claiming police had harassed her. In November, a source in Kuwait said that al-Azmi may have killed al-Salem because of a personal dispute between the two involving al-Azmi’s sister.
Authorities monitored foreign papers for objectionable material, and censored at least one paper during the year, the Lebanon-based Al-Tadamun al-Arabi wal Dawli.
Two journalists were jailed in Kuwait at year’s end: Fawwaz Muhammad al-Awadi Bessisso and Ibtisam Berto Sulaiman al-Dakhil. Both were imprisoned in June 1991 and later sentenced to life in prison because of their work with the collaborationist newspaper Al-Nida, which was published under the Iraqi occupation. Both remained imprisoned despite the release of some 15 former Al-Nida journalists since 1996, many by royal decree.
Hidaya Sultan al-Salem, Al-Majales
KILLED (motive unconfirmed)
Al-Salem, a 66-year-old veteran journalist who owned and edited the weekly magazine Al-Majales, was killed on her way to work when an armed assailant opened fire on her chauffeur-driven car in Kuwait City.
The assailant, who was described as wearing a traditional long robe, apparently got out of a four-wheel drive car and fired several rounds into al-Salem’s car while it was stopped in traffic. She died shortly thereafter.
According to Kuwaiti police and prosecutors, the main suspect, a police officer named Khaled al-Azmi, confessed to killing al-Salem. However, he later recanted in court, saying police had forced him to confess. One Kuwaiti source who was monitoring the case told CPJ that al-Azmi recanted on the advice of his lawyer in order to avoid the death penalty. CPJ could not verify this claim. In February 2002, al-Azmi was convicted of the murder.
Early in the investigation, Kuwaiti authorities said that al-Azmi killed al-Salem in revenge for an earlier Al-Majales article that he found insulting to the women of his tribe. The article, however, was written some eight months earlier–a fact that struck some as peculiar.
There was considerable speculation about the reasons for the assassination, including alleged financial disputes within al-Salem’s family and other alleged disputes with some of her employees. In the latest edition of Al-Majales, according to press reports, al-Salem published an open letter claiming she had been harassed by the police.
In November, a source in Kuwait said there was speculation that al-Azmi may have killed al-Salem because of a personal dispute between the two involving al-Azmi’s sister.