A leading Government opponent has been jailed for five years for insulting the Emir of Kuwait, just days after details were leaked of a controversial new draft media law stipulating harsh penalties for those who speak out against the Gulf state's leader.
Mussallam al-Barrak, a former Member of Parliament, was accused of "undermining the status of the emir" when he warned the emir – Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah – that he would not be allowed to "take Kuwait into the abyss of autocracy" during a demonstration in October 2012.
His lawyer told the AFP news agency that he will appeal the ruling handed down on Monday (15 April).
The news follows cabinet approval of a draft law, which will, if passed by the national assembly, enable a ten-year jail sentence for insulting Allah, prophets, companions, relatives and wives of Prophet Muhammad. It also allows a fine of between KD50,000 (US$175,000) and KD300,000 ($1.05 million) and ten years in prison for those convicted of insulting the emir or the crown prince, according to local reports.
The Information Ministry will also be able to shut down a media outlet for up to three years without a court ruling – as is currently required – should the 99 article draft become statute, according to the Kuwait Times.
Currently, critics of the Government – dominated by the ruling family – are tried under the penal code and face up to five years in prison. The maximum fine for violating the existing media law in Kuwait is $70,000.
Among the many critics of the new proposals is former liberal opposition MP Abdulrahman Al-Anjari who called the draft legislation a "stigma" for the Government which, he said, is "suffering from psychological disorders," reported the newspaper.
Reporters Without Borders has expressed outrage at the "Government's desire to use this Draconian law to control information and restrict freedom of expression ... freedom of information is a fundamental freedom enshrined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Kuwait ratified this declaration and must respect its national and international obligations"
It added: "If adopted ... this law would pose a terrible threat to media freedom and would certainly not bolster the media, as the information minister cynically claimed," it added.
Meanwhile, 8 May is the date set for the court hearing of the case against the chairman, director and two presenters at Kuwait's pro-opposition network Al-Youm Television. They face charges of violating the current law after broadcasting a statement from the opposition earlier this year.