KUWAIT: A Turn for the Worst?

NICOLE SABA WRITES – A new media law has been drafted in Kuwait, severely restricting both freedom of the press and freedom of speech. This law will let the government regulate both traditional and social media, including, but not limited to: blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and any other online forums.

Though the law has not yet been approved by the National Assembly or the Amir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, it seems it will be, considering the penalties put into place for those that criticize or insult the Amir, Allah, or the Prophet Mohammed.

But the law is drafted in such a way that the words ‘insulting’ or ‘criticizing’ can be used to describe anyone that voices any kind of complaint regarding the country. It applies to all citizens, including those in the ruling family, such as Sheikh Meshaal Al-Malik Al-Sabah, who was recently arrested for posting on Twitter that Kuwait’s government is corrupt, which people interpreted as having, “stabbed the rights and powers of the Amir.”

Media leaks of the draft bill show that people can get sentences of up to 10 years in prison for criticizing the State, Islam, or for calling on people to overthrow the government.

Also, possible fines will be between 50,000 and 300,000 Kuwaiti Dinars, or $175,000to about $1 million US. On the other hand, current laws aren’t that much better, dictating that people who criticize the Amir will be tried under the penal code and will most likely receive jail sentences of up to five years.

Sheikh Salman Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, the Minister of Information and Minister of State for Youth Affairs, claimed that the law would be passed in order to “bolster” Kuwait’s media scene, and will, “address any transgressions to media laws and regulations without dealing with them as crimes worthy of being punished through the penal code.” Thus, the laws will empower give the Ministry of Information in to deal with government opponents.

Until now, Kuwait has been a leader in media freedom in the Arab world, ranking 60 in the World Press Freedom Index. Passing a law like this will weaken their case. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on the Kuwaiti parliament to reject the law. They argue it would threaten freedom of the press in Kuwait, and that freedom of information is a fundamental right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Kuwait ratified and, therefore, must respect.

Either way, the future of media freedom in Kuwait is now in the hands of the Parliament and it is unclear whether the worst is yet to come.

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