Critical Kuwaiti journalist ordered detained for 21 days

New York, May 19, 2010—Kuwaiti authorities should immediately release freelance opposition journalist Mohammed Abdulqader al-Jassem, who has been detained since Sunday on charges of “instigating to overthrow the regime,” “slight to the personage of the emir” and “instigating to dismantle the foundations of Kuwaiti society,” the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Al-Jassem is facing multiple charges in five other complaints and was sentenced to jail in another case in April.

Security officers began questioning al-Jassem on May 11 about articles he has published, going back to a 2006 story critical of the ruling family and Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Jaber al-Sabah, according to the journalist’s lawyer, Abdullah al-Ahmad, and local news reports. Al-Jassem went on a hunger strike on May 12 to protest the interrogations but his health deteriorated two days later and he was taken to a military hospital where he ended the strike, al-Ahmad told CPJ. He was transferred to Kuwait City’s central prison on Sunday after the prosecutor-general issued a 21-day detention order for him, al-Ahmad added.

“Prosecutors have resorted to digging up a four-year-old article in an attempt to silence Mohammed Abdulqader al-Jassem because of his critical reporting,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We call on the prosecutor-general to release al-Jassem and to drop all cases against him without delay.”

On March 7, a criminal court in Kuwait City 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. On April 1, a criminal court in Kuwait City sentenced the journalist to six months in prison on charges of slandering the prime minister after al-Jassem called for his resignation. He is currently appealing.

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 political blog, his lawyer told CPJ.

Al-Ahmad called the charges against his client “vindictive.”