Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns the government’s closure of the Kuwait City bureau of the Doha-based satellite TV station Al Jazeera for covering police use of force to disperse an unauthorised demonstration at Soulaibikhat, 10 km from the city centre, on 8 December.
“This closure violates the legal procedures and regulations in force in Kuwait,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We urge the authorities to reissue Al Jazeera’s journalists with accreditation so that they can go back to work. Freedom of expression is guaranteed by Kuwait’s constitution.”
Opposition members organized the demonstration to protest against a proposal to amend the 1962 constitution. The government warned them in advance that it would not be authorized and told them to hold it indoors.
When the demonstrators, who included around ten parliamentarians, went ahead with the protest in the street, anti-riot police attacked them, hitting them with batons. Several of the protesters had to be hospitalized with fractures and other injuries.
“This was an outrage unprecedented in Kuwait's political history,” opposition parliamentarian Jaman Al Herbish told Reuters. “There was a deliberate intention to physically assault the opposition.”
“The authorities must face up to their responsibilities,” Reporters Without Borders said. “A TV station should not be made to pay because of violent behaviour by the police, especially when many websites covered the event, resulting in fierce criticism. We urge the government to carrying out an independent and transparent investigation into this use of violence by the police.”
Writer and lawyer Mohamed Abdel Qader Al-Jassem, the author of many articles critical of the prime minister, has meanwhile been the victim of judicial harassment since August 2009 (http://en.rsf.org/kuwait-journalist-gets-six-month-jail-01-04-2010,36929.html). According to his lawyer, he was acquitted nine times before being sentenced to a year in prison with forced labour on 22 November.
His case has been transferred to a special court and he is facing the possibility of an additional one-year sentence when he is tried again tomorrow. In the meantime, he underwent triple bypass surgery on 8 December.
Reporters Without Borders reiterates its call for Al-Jassem’s release and a halt to all the prosecutions being brought against him. The politicization of the judicial apparatus poses a serious threat to the future of democracy in Kuwait.