Kuwaiti court upholds government shutdown of Al-Watan newspaper

Washington, February 19, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the official harassment of the Kuwaiti independent daily Al-Watan and calls on authorities to allow the paper to resume publishing its print edition. In the latest legal twist, a Kuwaiti court on Wednesday upheld the government’s decision to shut down the paper, according to news reports.

According to Al-Watan‘s website, authorities in January revoked the business license of its publishing company, Dar Al-Watan, based on financial regulations, and then revoked the paper’s own publishing license. Despite a series of interim court decisions that favored the newspaper, the government continued to obstruct publication. A final verdict is due to be issued on February 22, according to the daily and Hossam Fathy, the managing editor of Al-Watan. The daily’s website is still operating, along with the Al-Watan TV channel.

Al-Watan is owned by a member of the ruling family and traditionally supported the government until two years ago, when it adopted a tougher line, according to Agence France-Presse.

“The great lengths to which Kuwait has gone to silence Al-Watan belie the government claim that the paper’s shutdown is due to financial requirements,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. “We call on Kuwaiti authorities to foster an environment in which the public has access to a variety of independent voices. They can begin with allowing Al-Watan to resume printing.”

Fathy told CPJ that the authorities’ decision to revoke the license was in retaliation for Al-Watan‘s critical coverage of the government. Most recently, on Monday, the outlet published an interview with a former opposition Parliament member who called on Kuwaiti citizens to topple the government. In another interview on Saturday, another opposition Parliament member said Kuwait faced several challenges, including corruption and the presence of militias, which he said could not be addressed while the current government was in power.

The legal saga began on January 18 when the Kuwait Ministry of Trade and Industry revoked the commercial license of Dar Al-Watan, saying the company had failed to comply with capital requirements, according to news reports. The next day, officials from the Ministry of Trade sealed the doors of the company and its printing house, according to the daily. It later withdrew the publishing licenses of Al-Watan and magazine Miraat Al-Ummah, which is also published by Dar Al-Watan.

On January 21, Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Mohammad Abdullah al-Sabah told the government news agency KUNA that there was no political motive behind shutting down Al-Watan.

Al-Watan achieved an emergency court ruling in January saying the paper could publish until the final verdict was made. However, on Sunday, officials from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Information shut down a second printing company that Al-Watan was attempting to use, according to reports.

Al-Watan has been harassed by authorities in recent years as well. In April 2014, a Kuwaiti court suspended the paper and another daily, Alam Al-Youm, for two weeks after it allegedly broke a media blackout ordered by prosecutors about a videotape featuring government officials allegedly plotting a coup in Kuwait, according to news reports. Alam Al-Youm has since been shut down.

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