A Kuwaiti appeal court’s decision to uphold a 20-month prison sentence on a teacher for political comments she made on Twitter further erodes the right to free speech in Kuwait, Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
On July 17, 2013, the court of appeals confirmed the conviction of Sara al-Drees, 26, on charges of offending Kuwait’s emir and misusing her mobile phone when sending tweets that the authorities considered offensive. She is free on bail, awaiting the outcome of a further appeal.
“The Kuwait authorities over the past year have prosecuted dozens of people for peaceful political statements,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
“The government should tolerate this kind of criticism, not persecute people who dare express it.”
Since a political crisis between the government and the political opposition in June 2012, the authorities have charged several dozen politicians, online activists, journalists, and others with “offending” the emir, Kuwait’s head of state.
The government should drop charges against those accused or convicted of crimes solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and it should amend Kuwait’s criminal code to remove the crime of “offending the emir,” Human Rights Watch said.
On May 29, 2013, a Kuwaiti criminal court convicted al-Drees of offending the emir in four tweets that she admitted sending. One referred to an October 2012 protest that local activists said was met with a violent government response and many arrests. She wrote: “What’s taking place now is a shame on Kuwait’s history. Damn this era! The curse of Allah shall rest on the oppressors!”
In another, referring to the ruling family, she wrote: “We loved you as a part of Kuwait’s history, rejecting violations by some of you, but we now feel that you are spongers imposed on us by our constitution.”
Al-Drees, who teaches high school students about human rights under Kuwait’s constitution, is not the only woman to be sentenced to prison for political speech.
On June 10, a court sentenced Huda al-Ajmi, a 37-year-old teacher, to 11 years in prison, including 5 years for “offending the emir,” after convicting her on charges based on a series of tweets. She is free on bail, awaiting the outcome of her appeal.
Article 25 of Kuwait’s penal code of 1970 sets out sentences of up to five years in prison for anyone who publicly “objects to the rights and authorities of the emir or faults him.” This provision violates the free speech protections in international treaties to which Kuwait is a party, Human Rights Watch said.
“Kuwait used to have a better reputation than most other Gulf states in respecting the right to free speech,” Stork said. “But with each case like this, the authorities are lowering themselves to the standards of the rest of the region.