Kuwaiti blogger sentenced for insulting ruler on Twitter

New York, January 9, 2013–A Kuwaiti court sentenced an online journalist to prison on Monday for insulting the ruling family on social media, according to news reports. Ayyad al-Harbi was ordered to begin serving the two-year jail sentence immediately, news reports said.

Police arrested al-Harbi on November 13 in connection with a series of posts he made to his personal Twitter account, starting in October, in which he criticized the government and called on authorities to stop oppressing Kuwaiti citizens, according to news reports. He was released the next day on bail, the reports said. A court convicted him on Monday on the insult charge, which is punishable by up to five years in prison, according to Article 25 of the penal code.

Al-Harbi’s lawyer, Mohammed al-Humidi, said the journalist would be appealing, according to news reports.

Al-Harbi wrote opinion pieces for Sabr, a Kuwait-based independent website that publishes news and commentary. He wrote extensively about local issues including corruption and freedom of speech in the run-up to the December parliament election. He has also written articles that have called on the Shia minority to revolt against corruption and criticized the government in connection with their attitudes on freedom of speech and women’s rights.

Since October, protesters have demonstrated against the legal process behind the December parliamentary elections and the lack of reform promised by the government. Police have arrested and used stun grenades to disperse several protesters, news reports said.

“CPJ is alarmed by the prison sentence handed to Kuwaiti journalist Ayyad al-Harbi,” said Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. “We urge the Kuwaiti appellate court to reverse this conviction and uphold the nation’s commitment to freedom of expression.”

Al-Harbi wrote a post on Twitter on January 6, accusing the government of corruption. The same day, he posted a prediction on Twitter, in which he said he would be indicted in the coming days for insulting the Alsabah ruling family, the same fate met by Kuwaiti opposition activist Rashed al-Anzi, who had been convicted on the same charge the day before.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This alert has been corrected to reflect that al-Harbi was convicted under Article 25 of the penal code–not Article 54 of the constitution, as previously stated.