Kuwait journalist gets year in jail; faces over a dozen cases

New York, November 23, 2010–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns a one-year prison sentence given to Mohammed Abdulqader al-Jassem, a Kuwaiti writer and journalist, on Monday. A criminal court convicted al-Jassem of criminal defamation in connection with an article he published on his personal news blog, Al-Mizan. The case is only one of 18 that the government has filed against the journalist in the past year.

The court decision was effective immediately, his daughter, Sumayah al-Jassem, told CPJ. She said police arrested her father at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, a few hours after he was convicted; he was scheduled to appear on Al-Jazeera that evening.

In his year-old opinion piece, al-Jassem criticized Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah for allowing Iranian intelligence to interfere in Kuwaiti politics. In the piece, al-Jassem expressed that he understood his work may result in punishment: “I know the peril of this article,” he wrote. “I know that Sheikh Nasser will continue in doing whatever he can against me. But I will not care; the interest and dignity of my country are more important to me than my own life.”

Al-Jassem told CPJ after his conviction that he had appealed.

“We call on the Kuwaiti appeals court to overturn the conviction against Mohammed Abdulqader al-Jassem and for the government to stop its patently politicized persecution of this prominent journalist,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa Program coordinator. “It is absurd that the authorities will pursue 18 different cases against a critical journalist until he is silenced.”

Al-Jassem was arrested most recently in May and held for several weeks in extrajudicial detention. In June, CPJ issued a letter asking for his release. He was released on bail on June 28.

“I know that I’m paying a price for my political stance,” al-Jassem told CPJ.

The 18 cases carry charges varying from defamation to “instigating to overthrow the regime,” “slight to the personage of the emir,” and “instigating to dismantle the foundations of Kuwaiti society,” his lawyer, Abdullah al-Ahmad, told CPJ. The prime minister filed four of them, and al-Jassem was acquitted in two out of the four cases. His lawyer said that public opinion and pressure from international organizations. Al-Ahmed expressed concern over the lack of judicial independence in the cases. He told CPJ that a “special section” has been set up within the Ministry of Justice to look exclusively into al-Jassem’s cases.