Kuwaiti court hands journalist jail term, suspends daily

New York, March 20, 2012–A Kuwait appellate court should overturn a March 12 ruling that suspended a private newspaper for three months and sentenced its editor to a six-month prison term for articles defending the country’s Shiite minority, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On March 12, Kuwait’s third circuit criminal court charged Al-Dar with violating the Press and Publications Law by “undermining national unity” and “creating sectarian strife,” its editor-in-chief, Abdul Hussein al-Sultan, told CPJ. The newspaper appealed the ruling on Thursday, but has not received an appeals court date yet, al-Sultan said. The editor, convicted of alleged incitement, was free after posting bail of 1,000 Kuwaiti dinars (US$3,600), he told CPJ.

The charges stemmed from three articles Al-Dar published in January that responded to local newspaper articles calling Kuwaiti Shiites “Iranian spies” and “disbelievers,” al-Sultan said. The editor told CPJ that the Al-Dar articles said the anti-Shiite comments threatened national unity and encouraged sectarianism.

The March 12 ruling also ordered all issues of the newspaper articles to be confiscated, CPJ’s review of the court documents found.

“It’s an egregious miscarriage of justice to find an editor and newspaper guilty of undermining national unity for articles defending a minority group that was under attack,” said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We call on the judicial system to reverse this unjust ruling on appeal, and authorities to halt their harassment of Al-Dar immediately.”

Kuwait’s Press Court suspended the newspaper on February 2 and again on March 5, CPJ research shows. The daily has repeatedly been targeted in the past three years with 133 cases brought against it by the Ministry of Information, al-Sultan told CPJ.