Reporters Without Borders is very concerned about the six-month prison sentence that a Kuwait City court imposed on Abdul Hussein Al-Sultan, the editor of the pro-Shiite daily Al-Dar, on 12 March.
“This sentence, combined with an order suspending the newspaper's publication for three months, in the wake of two other recent suspension orders, demonstrates a pattern of official harassment,” the press freedom organization said, calling for the lifting of the suspension and the dismissal of all charges against Al-Sultan.
“This harsh sentence could have serious consequences for press freedom in a country which up to now had been a model of freedom of expression in the Persian Gulf region,” Reporters Without Borders added.
Al-Sultan remains free on a 1,000-dinar (2,700 euros) bond and plans to appeal the sentence. The newspaper's suspension was prompted by two articles that were accused of inciting violations of public order and expressing hate toward certain religious and social groups.
Al-Sultan and the information ministry have clashed repeatedly over the past three years. Al-Dar was suspended on 1 February, on the eve legislative elections. The suspension was extended again on 5 March.
The information ministry invoked “national security” and “civil order” in taking these actions, citing article 111 of the penal code, and paragraphs 2 and 7 of article 21 of Law No. 3 of 2006 on printing and publishing.
Reporters Without Borders has also learned that a hearing is scheduled on 21 May for 11 people accused of invading the offices of television network Al-Watan on 31 January. Fourteen members of the security forces were wounded during the incident, as were three journalists, including Yusuf Al-Mutairi and photographer Mohamed Al-Sharhan of the newspaper Al-Jarida.
07.03.2012 - Special court extends pro-Shiite daily's suspension
Reporters Without Borders condemns the Press Court's 5 March decision to extend the suspension of the daily Al-Dar for the second time since the start of February for allegedly promoting inter-communal “fitna” (discord), inciting public order violations and encouraging hatred between religious groups and social sectors.
“The authorities keep on violating freedom of information,” Reporters Without Borders said. “With this latest extension, there is a danger that the suspension of newspapers is becoming routine.” Kuwaitis will now have to wait until 12 March at least before Al-Dar is on sale again.
Al-Dar has not appeared since 1 February, when the newspaper Al-Qabas reported that information ministry had ordered it suspended for two weeks. The suspension was already extended once in mid-February. No member of Al-Dar's staff was able to attend the court's special hearing.
The censorship began on the eve of the 2 February parliamentary elections. Al-Dar defends Kuwait's Shiite minority, which is often branded as potential danger to the country's stability. The newspaper's editor, Abdul Hussein Al-Sultan, said the suspension was highly political and would limit electoral debates.
07.02.2012 - Vote campaign marred by attacks and prosecutions against media
Reporters Without Borders wishes to express its concern over moves taken against a number of media organizations during the campaign for the parliamentary elections held on 2 February.
While the country heads the list of Arab states in the 2011 world press freedom index , the heightened political tension surrounding the elections had an impact on the media and Reporters Without Borders recorded several infringements of press freedom.
Some analysts believe the victory of tribal-based and Islamist candidates is a cause for concern as far as the future of press freedom is concerned.
Reporters Without Borders urges the Kuwaiti authorities to abandon all proceedings pending against the media and to continue to enforce the principles of media pluralism and independence.
Three daily papers and a television station are under threat of judicial proceedings launched by the information minister, Sheikh Hamad Jaber Al Ali Al Sabah.
On 1 February, the newspaper Al-Qabas reported that the minister had suspended publication of the daily Al-Dar because of two reports deemed to promote discord between communities and incitement to public disorder and to advocate hatred of some religious groups and elements of society.
The information minister was reported to have launched the proceedings in the interests of national security and civil peace under provisions in the penal code and a 2006 law that regulates printing and distribution.
Like Al-Dar, the satellite channel Scope TV was also reported to be the subject of a prosecution since it broadcast comments by a candidate in the third electoral district, Mohamed Al-Jouwaihel, a liberal fiercely opposed to tribal control of politics who was reported to have strongly criticized the tribes involved.
In the wake of his comments, supporters of tribal leaders set fire to the candidate's premises. According to the newspaper Al-Qabas, the information minister was due to hold a meeting of legal advisers to hand the case over to the public prosecutor.
The government clearly indicates its misgivings when the media are critical of the rise in tribal power.
On 31 January, about one thousand tribal supporters stormed the offices of the television station Al-Watan when a televised debate was due to take place between two candidates, Islamist-backed Faysal Al-Muslim and Nabil Al-Fadl, a pro-government candidate opposed to the Motairi tribe.
Security forces were unable to control the number of demonstrators that invaded the premises. Fourteen members of the security forces and three journalists were injured, among them Yusuf Al Mutairi and the photographer Mohamed Al-Sharhan of the newspaper Al-Jarida who were taken to Farwaniya hospital. The violent intrusion forced the organizers of the debate to abandon the program.
These incidents marred the election campaign, at a time when the Kuwaiti press was particularly vocal in its attacks on corruption and vote-buying by some candidates. The journalists paid particular attention to the “pre-selection” of tribal candidates in the 4th and 5th electoral districts.
The media play a key role in Kuwaiti political life. They spare no effort in exposing corruption and abuses of power and can make or break governments.
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