The Kuwaiti regime has been busy of late, though not in ways that bring cheer to civil rights advocates. Rather than implement new democratic overhauls or enhance individual liberties, the government has launched several bold moves to smother free expression.
Twitter users are being sent to the slammer for several years at a time for the content of their Tweets. The head of the Kuwaiti opposition was just sentenced to five years in jail for allegedly “insulting the emir” at a political rally. These high-profile cases are part of an increasingly harsh crackdown on the country’s dissidents, free-thinkers, opposition politicians, and journalists. In the past year, 35 twitter users, political commentators, activists and outspoken civilians have been charged with counts of insultingKuwait’s emir and his family and inciting protest.
Legal action has been a slowly tightening noose around the neck of civilians’ free speech. On Wednesday, that noose became much tighter with news that Information Minister Salman Al Sabah is proposing a new media law that will reportedly levy fines of about $1 million for insulting the emir and other members of the royal family. Details of the proposed media code were reported by the daily paper Qabas, which also cited fines of about $700,000 for stirring internal dissent.
In a classic case of Orwellian doublespeak, Minister Al Sabah has defended the new law as a way to maintain safety and “elevate discourse in the media.” The law, which still needs approval from Kuwait’s parliament and emir, would extend the government’s reach beyond the individual, as traditional media - and not only online sources - will also be held accountable under the proposed law.
Until this point,Kuwait’s government has been playing catch up, hoping to make examples of the individuals arrested or charged. This law proposal is a preemptive measure and a threatening message that intends to scare organizations into silence. While the hefty price tag might not intimidate individuals like Hamed al-Khaldi andNasseral-Ansary, who were sentenced to jail for their dissenting commentaries, it might be enough to dissuade larger media outlets from publishing or airing political critiques.