Attacks on the Press 2002: Kuwait

Kuwait’s press has long been recognized as the most liberal in the Persian Gulf. Kuwaiti newspapers, all of which are privately owned, are known for outspoken and critical coverage of the government and its policies. Nonetheless, the country’s press laws prohibit “subjecting the person of the emir to criticism” and empower authorities to suspend newspapers and jail journalists for “tarnishing public morals,” “disparaging God [and] the prophets,” “violating the national interest,” or “creating divisions among people.”

In early January, the Cabinet approved the draft of a new press statute, which contains strict measures opposed by journalists, including a cap on the number of newspapers that can be licensed every year and increased government authority to close publications. Parliament had not considered the law by year’s end.

In early 2002, the Interior Ministry prosecuted Muhammad al-Melaify, a contributor to the local daily Al-Watan and an employee at the Kuwaiti Ministry of Religious Endowments (which oversees the country’s religious land) because he claimed during an Al-Jazeera satellite channel talk show that the Kuwaiti government had a passive stance toward the United States’ detention of Kuwaiti nationals in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The ministry alleged that al-Melaify’s comments “aimed to create strife among the people and threatened Kuwaiti national interests.” Al-Watan later said it would no longer publish al-Melaify’s work. In a separate case, he was prosecuted in November after appearing on Al-Jazeera and praising an armed attack on U.S. Marines in Kuwait that killed one in October.

In November, one month after information ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional organization that promotes security and economic cooperation, had threatened to boycott Al-Jazeera for “insulting and slandering” their countries, Kuwaiti authorities closed the channel’s Kuwait bureau because the station was “biased” against the country. The bureau remained closed at year’s end.

In June, an appellate court upheld the murder conviction of Kuwaiti police officer Khaled al-Azmi, who was found guilty in February of killing Hidaya Sultan al-Salem, the owner and editor of the weekly magazine Al-Majales. Al-Salem was shot in March 2001 on her way to work in the capital, Kuwait City, in what her lawyers and the government said was retribution for an Al-Majales article that had allegedly insulted the women of al-Azmi’s tribe. However, two Kuwaiti journalists say that al-Azmi may have killed al-Salem because of a personal dispute. Al-Azmi appealed the case to Kuwait’s highest court, which had not heard the case by year’s end.

Ibtisam Berto Sulaiman al-Dakhil and Fawwaz Muhammad al-Awadi Bessisso, both of whom were jailed in June 1991 and later sentenced to life in prison because they worked for Al-Nida’–the collaborationist newspaper published under the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait–were pardoned in 2002. But because Bessisso is not a citizen of any country, no nation is willing to accept him as a refugee, according to his brother, who lives in the United States. Al-Dakhil, a naturalized Kuwaiti citizen from Iraq, lost her citizenship as a result of her conviction and is also awaiting deportation. Both are currently being held in Kuwaiti jails while they try to find countries of residence. Since 1996, some 15 Al-Nida’ journalists have been released, many by royal decree, and all have been deported.