Kuwait Shuts Down Newspaper, Extends Jailed Activist Sentence for Two Years

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Updated at 4:15 pm (GMT+ 2): Kuwait's lower court on Wednesday upheld a government decision to shut leading newspaper Al-Watan which has been highly critical of the government, a lawyer for the paper said.

Meanwhile, an appeal court increased by two years the jail sentence of an activist who tweeted comments deemed offensive to Gulf powerhouse Saudi Arabia.

"The court rejected our challenge to two decisions by the ministries of commerce and information to revoke the commercial and media licenses of Al-Watan," attorney Rashed al-Radaan told AFP.

In January, the ministry of commerce and industry revoked the commercial licence of Al-Watan saying it had violated minimum capital requirements, and shut the newspaper.

Under Kuwaiti law, the commercial licenses of companies with losses worth more than 75 percent of their capital are canceled. The information ministry later revoked the media license of the newspaper.

"The judge did not accept our arguments that the commerce ministry is not authorized under the law to revoke the license of a shareholding company. We will study details of the ruling and file an appeal at the court of appeals within a few days," Radaan said.

Al-Watan, one of the largest dailies in Kuwait, is owned by former oil minister Sheikh Ali Khalifa al-Sabah, a member of the ruling family, and is managed by his son Sheikh Khalifa.

The newspaper has traditionally supported the government, except in the past two years when it adopted a tougher line.

Meanwhile, activist Saleh al-Said, who was sentenced to four years in jail in December by a lower court for posting comments on Twitter in which he accused Saudi Arabia of grabbing land in Kuwait and Bahrain, saw his sentence extended by an additional two years by an appeals court.

The lower court charged him because of 16 tweets he had posted online in October, claiming he had endangered Saudi-Kuwaiti relations and undermined the kingdom.

The appeal court raised the jail sentence to six years but did not give a reason for its decision. Courts in Kuwait usually provide details of rulings days after they are made.

Said, who is in his 50s, has in the past few years repeatedly criticized Saudi Arabia, Qatar and some other Gulf states for their hostile position towards the Syrian government.

The sentence is not final as it can be challenged in the supreme court.

International rights campaigners accuse the Kuwaiti government of restricting the freedom of expression since the eruption of pro-reform protests in 2012, which led to the cabinet's resignation.

According to Human Rights Watch's (HRW) 2014 world report, in 2013 Kuwaiti authorities prosecuted dozens of people who expressed critical views of the government — via social media or during the protests.

Kuwait has seen many opposition-led demonstrations in protest against the changes to the electoral law, which opposition groups claimed allowed the government to influence election results and elect a rubber-stamp assembly.

The Sabah family has ruled Kuwait for over 250 years. The emir, crown prince, prime minister and key cabinet ministers all hail from the ruling family.

The monarchy’s constitution describes the emir as "immune and inviolable" and criticizing him is therefore illegal and considered a state security offense, with those found guilty faced with up to five years behind bars.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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