Kuwait: Kuwait and Qatar- Freedom of Expression in danger
The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) expresses concern in relation to restrictions on the right of freedom of expression in Kuwait and Qatar.
On 29 May 2013, the Kuwaiti Criminal Court sentenced blogger Sara Al Driss to 20 months in jail on the basis of posts she made on her personal Twitter account. She was found guilty of charges of undermining the status of the Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, and tarnishing the authority of the royal family. The court however held that the sentence could be suspended if she paid 200 Kuwaiti dinars (approximately €540).
Her sentence related to four postings, however, she was found not guilty in respect of another 43 tweets for which she was also being investigated and charges of taking part in an unlicensed rally and the misuse of her mobile phone.
Many Twitter users in Kuwait have come out in support of Sara Al Driss. Some of her supporters have prepared posters for her and others have posted videos of her online. Her sentencing comes in the context of a crackdown on Twitter activists in Kuwait. In recent months, several bloggers have been handed down prisons sentences for posting comments on Twitter which have been deemed offensive to the Emir.
Freedom of expression in Qatar is also becoming increasingly in danger. On 29 May 2013, at a meeting headed by the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, the Cabinet of Ministers agreed on a draft law in relation to combating cyber crimes. As a next step, the draft law will reportedly be reviewed by the Qatari Shura Council and if passed will create a law providing for the imprisonment of online activists on charges of publishing incorrect information with a view to compromising the integrity of the state, public order or internal or external security risk. It is feared that such a law, if introduced, will be used as a means of curtailing freedom of expression and punishing those who legitimately and peacefully exercise this right.
The GCHR, is concerned by these recent developments in Kuwait and Qatar which are evidence of the threat posed to the right of freedom of opinion and expression in these countries. The GCHR urges the authorities to ensure that any restrictions on this fundamental human right are lifted immediately.
The GCHR urges the authorities:
- In Kuwait to immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against Sara Al-Driss;
- In Qatar to ensure that any legislative measures which attempt to restrict the right to freedom of opinion and expression are immediately halted and that the draft cyber crime law agreed by the Cabinet of Ministers on 29 May 2013 is not enacted;
- In Kuwait and Qatar to guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities and to exercise their right to freedom of expression without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
The GCHR respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw your attention to Article 6 (b and c): “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (b) As provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms; (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters”, and to Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”