June 13, 2003 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Concern about harassment of Al-Watan editor

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about government harassment of Al-Watan editor Mohammed Al-Jassem, a staunch defender of press freedom, in the run-up to the legislative elections in three weeks' time. In a letter today to information minister Sheikh Ahmed Fahad Al-Ahmed, Reporters Without said it was disturbed by Al-Jassem's summons for questioning by the prosecutor's office three days ago about criticism of the government he had expressed during a gathering of journalists and a political meeting. The organisation also called on the authorities to stop pressuring all the news media in the run-up to the elections and to abandon its attempts to toughen press legislation. Reached by telephone, Al-Jassem told Reporters Without Borders he thought the aim of the summons was to create such problems for the newspaper that it would have to close. "It's not so much me they are after, although I've taken an active role in combatting the government's proposed new law cracking down on the press, it's the newspaper's boldness that really bothers them," he said. As editor of Al-Watan, Al-Jassem has had a key role in the campaign against the proposed amendments to the press law, which would introduce close government control of the news media. Parliament recently heeded Al-Jassem's recommendations and rejected the amendments. Many observers see a link between Al-Jassem's opposition to the draft amendments and the charges he is facing today. The case has caused a stir throughout the Kuwaiti news media, which view it as a setback for freedom of expression. The immediate effect of Al-Jassem's summons for questioning on 9 June has been an increase in self-censorship by Kuwaiti newspapers. Several have refrained from publishing articles too critical of the government. This was the case, for example, with Al Qabas, which for the first time in 11 years refused to run an editorial by Mohammed Musaed Al-Saleh, one about government meddling in the elections, a subject that is no secret to any one. Al-Saleh instead wrote an editorial about the censoring of his first editorial. The criticism by Al-Jassem that caused offence was made firstly at a gathering of Arab journalists on 7 June, in which he denounced government interference in the work of the news media, and then at a political meeting later the same day of one of the legislative election candidates, in which Al-Jassem took issue with the government's meddling in the elections. At a meeting the next day, the council of ministers ordered that Al-Jassem should be investigated by the prosecutor's office for criticising the emir's family and violating article 25 of law 31/1970, which punishes public criticism of the emir's authority and the expression of "abusive" views about the emir with up to five years in prison. After his appearance before prosecutors on 9 June, he was released the same day on bail of 3,000 euros. He is to be questioned again in the coming days. Al-Watan, which has some 200,000 readers, recently began printing Kuwaiti editions of the International Herald Tribune and the Daily Star of Lebanon. Al-Jassem is also the editor of the Arabic-language editions of Newsweek and Foreign Policy.