(Beirut)– Kuwaiti authorities should immediately end the suspension of the daily Al Dar and void the conviction of its editor for alleged incitement, Human Rights Watch said today. This criminal punishment, for articles in which al-Sultan condemned other writers for insulting the Shia minority, is a clear violation of the right to freedom of expression.
On March 12, 2012, a criminal court suspended the newspaper for three months and sentenced the editor-in-chief, Abd al-Hussain al-Sultan, to a six-month suspended jail term and fined him 1,000 Kuwaiti Dinars (US$ 3,500) for allegedly publishing articles that “raise sectarian strife.” The case stems from three articles that Al Dar published in late January that named news agencies and writers and cited articles and social media statements that al-Sultan contended had targeted and insulted the Shia minority in Kuwait.
“It is truly bizarre to charge someone with incitement for simply noting what others have said or published,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Kuwaiti authorities should immediately lift Al Dar’ssuspension and void the conviction of the editor.”
The Information Ministry referred the Al Dar caseto the Public Prosecution office which charged al-Sultan with violating Penal Code and press law provisions by publishing articles that “raise sectarian strife, incite to violate public order, prejudice (against) … people and their beliefs, and incite hatred,” according to a copy of the charge sheet obtained by Human Rights Watch. On the same day, the Press Court held an emergency session and suspended the newspaper for two weeks, pending investigation. The Press Court renewed the suspension pending a criminal court verdict, which came on March 12.
Al-Sultan told Human Rights Watch that his newspaper decided to publish the articles to “warn the government and the society that there were people who wanted to ignite sectarian strife by targeting Shias.” He said he will appeal the verdict.
Article 19 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, which Kuwait ratified in 1996, protects the right to freedom of expression, including “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.” Any restrictions on this right must be provided by law and strictly necessary to “respect the rights or reputations of others” or “for the protection of national security or of public order or public health and morals.” The UN Human Rights Committee, which has given the definitive interpretation of this article, has noted the high importance of protecting the rights of journalists and the media to free expression, especially in discussing matters of public interest, and stated that general bans on publications are never permissible, apart from the limited circumstances where content may be restricted under article 19, and this is not severable from the rest of the publication.
“The prosecution of Abd al-Hussain al-Sultan and suspension of his newspaper clearly violates the international standard that Kuwait has signed up for,” Stork said. “Al Dar should be able to express the views of one of Kuwait’s religious minorities freely and peacefully and without fears of reprisal.”