Kuwait slammed over Twitter ruling

Right group says Gulf state “squandered” opportunity to uphold freedom of speech

Kuwait’s Constitutional Court has drawn stinging criticism from a prominent rights group over its decision to uphold a two-year prison sentence for a journalist convicted of insulting the Gulf state’s ruler over Twitter.

A reporter from newspaper Sabr, Ayyad Khaled Al Harbi, was originally charged with the offence in November last year, before being handed the sentence in January 2013. His comments on the social networking site were deemed critical of Kuwait’s emir, a crime which violates article 25 of the country’s penal code and stipulates up to five years in jail.

Al Harbi and his lawyer Khaled Al Kafifa had appealed the ruling, arguing that article 25 violates several provisions of the Kuwaiti constitution, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

However, in a December 2 judgement Kuwait’s Constitutional Court, its highest avenue of appeal, rejected the challenge.

International lobbyist group Human Rights Watch criticised the decision.  “Kuwait’s highest court could have created a remedy for a slew of prosecutions that violate constitutional guarantees of free speech,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “The court squandered that opportunity.”

According to the constitution of Kuwait, Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad is described as “immune and inviolable”.

“It is not acceptable that the highest position in the country should be treated like other individuals,” the constitutional court said in its December 2 ruling.

In Kuwait, a court sentenced Musaab Shamsah to five years in prison after he was convicted of insulting the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in a Twitter comment in May that made references to the descendants of Islam’s prophet.

The since-deleted post could be taken as endorsing Shia beliefs in the Sunni-ruled country, the court said.

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