Police officers are seen at a checkpoint in Jeleeb Al-Shuyoukh, Kuwait, on April 7, 2020. Kuwaiti authorities recently detained blogger Mohamed al-Ajmi. (AFP/Yasser al-Zayyat)

Kuwaiti authorities detain blogger Mohamed al-Ajmi for ‘insulting religion’ in tweets

On August 23, 2020, the Kuwaiti public prosecutor’s office ordered the detention of Mohamed al-Ajmi, a blogger and member of the Kuwaiti freedom of expression group the National Committee for Monitoring Violations, and held him until August 25, according to news reports, social media posts by the journalist, and a report by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, a regional human rights group.

On the day of his arrest, al-Ajmi was photographed at the public prosecutor’s office in handcuffs, in an image that circulated widely on social media. On August 25, the journalist posted a tweet indicating that he had been released.

According to a report by BBC Arabic, authorities accused al-Ajmi of “insulting religion” in his tweets, and released him on 500 dinars (US$1,535) bail.

Reached via Twitter, al-Ajmi told CPJ that he had been held at the Criminal Investigation Department from August 23 to 25, and that he had been referred to a court but not formally charged.

If charged and convicted of broadcasting comments offensive to religious groups, al-Ajmi could face up to seven years in prison and a fine of 10,000 to 100,000 dinars (US$33,000 to $330,000), according to a 2018 report by the U.S. State Department.

In a video interview posted on Twitter on August 25, al-Ajmi said that some members of parliament had filed and then dropped complaints against him.

On Twitter, where he has about 290 thousand followers, al-Ajmi has recently posted comments criticizing and satirizing the Kuwaiti government and proposed amendments to the country’s publication laws, and published a list of lawmakers and their votes on the amendments. He also published commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reporting on the government’s treatment of stateless residents in Kuwait.

Al-Ajmi’s arrest occurred days after Kuwait’s National Assembly passed amendments to the country’s publications law that removed prior censorship of books but failed to remove prison terms as a possible punishment for violating the law, according to local news reports.

CPJ messaged the Kuwaiti Ministry of Justice on Twitter for comment, but did not receive any response.