Authorities backslide on free expression in Kuwait

New York, April 9, 2013–Kuwaiti authorities are undermining freedom of expression with a series of arrests and prosecutions intended to stifle dissent, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. At least six Kuwaiti journalists are facing legal action in reprisal for their work, according to news reports.

Four journalists affiliated with the TV station Al-Youm will face trial Wednesday on charges of “insulting the emir.” Rima al-Baghdady and Ahmad al-Enezi, both TV presenters, as well as Hassan al-Rouq, a news director, and the station’s CEO, Ahmad Jabr, face up to five years in jail, news reports said.

Al-Youm had broadcast a statement from the political opposition last October that criticized plans by Emir Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah to amend the country’s electoral system, al-Baghdady told CPJ. The channel, which is known to be sympathetic to the opposition, was also briefly shut down by the government in December for alleged license violations.

In an unrelated case, Zayed al-Zaid, the editor of the online Kuwaiti website al-Aaan, faces a one-month prison sentence on a defamation charge in connection with an article that criticized a former government minister for failing to crack down on corruption. He was arrested at the Kuwaiti airport on February 27 on his way home from Washington, the journalist told CPJ. A judge temporarily released him on March 11 pending an appeal to be heard on April 22, news reports said.

Al-Zaid has faced reprisal for his work in the past. In 2009, an unknown assailant physically assaulted the journalist after he gave a lecture on corruption in the country, Agence France Presse reported.

In a third case, a Kuwaiti court on February 7 sentenced Egyptian blogger Abdul Aziz al-Baz to a year in prison, deportation, and a fine of about US$200 on charges of insulting Islam in connection with his posts on secularism, the blogger’s lawyer told CPJ. The lawyer, Ahmad Nashmi, said he would be filing an appeal this month for the blogger to be released on bail and for the sentence to be overturned.

Al-Baz’s blog features several entries that criticize the mixing of politics with religion and includes critical posts on the strict interpretations of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. In its statement announcing the official charges against the blogger, the Kuwaiti Ministry of Interior focused on one post that discussed a story by Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswany about patients being refused health care during prayer time.

“Kuwait’s response to demands for greater freedom of speech has been to double down on repression,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The authorities should stop using antiquated and sweeping laws to silence independent journalists and bloggers and drop all charges against them. Journalism across the Arab world is in transition. Kuwait cannot deny its residents these new freedoms.”

Kuwaiti authorities have been conducting a broad crackdown on freedom of expression. Dozens of politicians, activists, bloggers, and citizens have been prosecuted for insulting the emir on social media. In another recent strike against freedom of the press, Qatari journalist Abdullah al-Athbah, editor for Al-Arab weekly, was denied entry into the country on Thursday after writing articles critical of former Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Ahmed al-Sabah, who still exerts significant influence in the country, news reports said.

  • For more data and analysis on Kuwait, visit CPJ’s Kuwait page here.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this alert incorrectly stated Abdul Aziz al-Baz’s name as Abdullah Aziz al-Baz.