Critical Kuwaiti journalist faces official harassment

New York, April 2, 2010The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Kuwaiti authorities to end the judicial harassment of opposition journalist Mohammed Abdulqader al-Jassem.

A Kuwait City court sentenced al-Jassem on Thursday to six months in prison on charges of slandering Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammed Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah. The charges were based on remarks Al-Jassem gave at a February human rights conference in which he said the prime minister was unfit to rule the country and should resign, according to local news reports. Al-Jassem is free on bail of 5,000 dinars (US$17,500), pending an appeal.

Al-Jassem is facing five other complaints brought by the prime minister and the information minister in connection with articles critical of the government that were published in local newspapers and on the journalist’s blog. On March 7, a court fined al-Jassem 3,000 dinars (US$10,500) for an article in the independent daily Alam Al-Youm in which he alleged that media outlets backed by the prime minister had been stoking tensions between the country’s Sunni and Shiite communities. Alam Al-Youm was fined the same amount.

“We call on the Kuwaiti judiciary to overturn al-Jassem’s conviction on appeal, and urge officials to drop all the other cases against him,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “Questioning a public official’s performance or calling for his resignation is not defamatory. These repeated complaints smack of political score-settling against an opposition journalist.”

Al-Jassem told CPJ that he received a telephone call on March 20 from a friend, who said he was relaying a message from a government official. The message: Authorities were determined to “get him” and he should leave the country.

“I will not send myself into self exile for exercising my rights to freedom of expression,” al-Jassem told CPJ. “These trials brought against me are clearly political and meant to silence me and all critical voices in Kuwait.”