(Beirut) - The Kuwaiti government should immediately release two Kuwaiti men detained over internet postings criticizing the rulers of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, Human Rights Watch said today.
State security authorities detained and investigated Nasser Abul on June 7, 2011, for threatening state security based on Twitter messages, and Lawrence al-Rashidi later in June based on a YouTube video criticizing Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, the country's emir. Both are being held without bail. Kuwaiti authorities should immediately investigate allegations that Abul has been mistreated in detention, Human Rights Watch said.
"Nasser Abul has been held for more than a month on the basis of a few tweets that clearly constitute protected speech," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "His detention appears to be an illegal effort to punish him and intimidate others who might dare be critical about Kuwait's fellow Gulf monarchs."
Local media reported that state security authorities arrested al-Rashidi after he posted a YouTube video in which he calls for Kuwait's emir to step down, accuses him of violating Kuwaitis' rights, and predicts that he will be removed from power based upon events in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen.
Abul received a summons to go to Kuwait's Criminal Investigations Department on June 7. Authorities questioned him for a day, then transferred him to the state security prison. His lawyer, Khalid al-Shatti, said authorities detained Abul in connection with a series of postings on his Twitter page that sharply criticized and mocked the ruling families of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia for attacks on anti-government protests in Bahrain.
Al-Shatti told Human Rights Watch that authorities beat Abul and subjected him to sleep deprivation while he was at the Criminal Investigations Department, and then held him in solitary confinement for two weeks. Al-Shatti also said that authorities denied his client access to legal counsel during several interrogation sessions at the prosecutor's office, denied him family visits, and repeatedly insulted him for being a Shia.
The lawyer said that Abul denied writing some of the more inflammatory tweets he was accused of writing himself and said that hackers had posted the messages.
Human Rights Watch reviewed the postings on Abul's account, which express support for the anti-government demonstrators in Bahrain and sharp criticism of the Bahraini and Saudi governments and ultra-conservative Islamist ideology. Some messages used derogatory or profane language about Bahrain's ruling Al Khalifa family, but none expressed any support for violence.
A source close to Abul told Human Rights Watch that, before his arrest, Kuwaiti pro-government factions had warned him to stop posting anti-government messages on his Twitter account, saying he risked criminal prosecution. Kuwait's Al-Siyasah newspaper reported that Sheikh Abdullah Mohammed bin Ahmed Al Fateh Al Khalifa, a member of Bahrain's ruling Al Khalifa family, plans to file a defamation suit against Abul on behalf of the royal family.
Kuwait jailed a blogger, Mohammad al-Jassim, in May and June 2010, after he criticized the country's prime minister. Al-Jassim appealed charges against him and was subsequently acquitted.
As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Kuwait is bound by article 19(2) of that covenant, which states: "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice." Article 36 of Kuwait's constitution protects freedom of speech and opinion, stating that: "Every person has the right to express and propagate his opinion verbally, in writing, or otherwise, in accordance with the conditions and procedures specified by law."
"Kuwait has sunk to a new low by arresting people just for posting criticism of governments on the internet," Stork said. "The government should decisively reject criminal prosecution for mere speech and stop expanding repression into the realm of social networking sites."