Courts uphold newspaper’s closure, increase blogger’s jail term

Reporters Without Borders is worried by a wave of harassment of independent news media and bloggers in Kuwait, where courts last week upheld the leading daily Al-Watan’s closure and increased a blogger’s jail sentence from four to six years.

The ministry of trade and industry rescinded Al-Watan's commercial licence in January of saying it had violated minimum capital requirements. Under Kuwaiti law, commercial licences are withdrawn from companies when they sustain losses worth more than 75 percent of their capital. The information ministry followed up the decision by rescinding the newspaper’s publishing licence. “The court rejected our appeal against the decisions by the ministries of trade and information to rescind Al-Watan’s licences,” the newspaper’s lawyer, Rashed Al-Radaan, said after the court issued its ruling on 18 February. One of Kuwait’s leading newspapers, Al-Watan is very critical of government. On 20 April 2014, the authorities ordered it closed for two weeks after it defied a two-month-old ban on covering an investigation into alleged plans to stage a coup d’état. Blogger’s jail term lengthened In a separate decision on 18 February, an appeal court added two years to the four-year jail sentence that blogger Saleh al-Saeed received in December for tweeting comments accusing Saudi Arabia of encroaching on the territory of both Kuwait and Bahrain The Kuwaiti authorities arrested several bloggers in late January for posting comments deemed to have insulted Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, who died on 23 January. They have not yet been brought before any court. The UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review working group has meanwhile issued a damning report about the human rights situation in Kuwait. Released on 30 January, the report urges Kuwait to “guarantee the independence of the judiciary by reforming the appointment, promotion and evaluation of judges and removing the direct dependency of the Supreme Judiciary on the Ministry of Justice.” It voices concern about “excessive restrictions on freedom of expression contained in the Press and Publication Law and related legislation, including prohibitions on legitimate criticism of government officials and other public figures, and about allegations of arbitrary arrest, detention, trial and deportation of persons using their freedom of opinion and expression through the media and Internet.” It also urges Kuwait to revise the Press and Publication Law in order to “fully guarantee freedoms of opinion and expression, protect media pluralism and decriminalize defamation.” Kuwait is ranked 90th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Read Reporters Without Borders’ contribution on Kuwait to the UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review, 21st session, January-February 2015
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Updated on 20.01.2016