In 2001 Kuwait celebrated the tenth anniversary of its liberation from seven months of Iraqi occupation. As the only monarchy in the Gulf to have an elected parliament, the country has to manage tense cohabitation between liberals and Islamists. At the end of December 2000 a member of parliament with staunch Islamist convictions proposed censorship of Internet sites as well as television channels of a pornographic nature received by satellite. He also asked for a "ban on the sale and promotion of equipment for reception from certain satellites which transmit pornographic, indecent and immoral programmes", and a requirement for Internet access providers to "prevent the entry of programmes of a pornographic or immoral nature".
Although journalists in the emirate have far more freedom than their Saudi Arabian neighbours, the press and publications law is nevertheless severe. In terms of this law any writing that "by allusion, slander, sarcasm or denigration dishonours God, the prophets or the companions of the Prophet Mohammed" or "which soil public morals", are punishable. Amendments replacing prison sentences by fines, under examination since 2000, have still not been passed. An article in the penal code provides for prison sentences for propagation of "opinions that include sarcasm, contempt or denigration of religion".
A journalist killed
Hudaya Sultan al-Salem, owner and editor-in-chief of the political weekly al-Majales and the first woman journalist in Kuwait, was murdered on 20 March 2001 in her car. According to the police, a police officer, Ziab Khaled Al Azmi, admitted to killing the journalist because she had written an article about the women of his tribe, Al Awasem, and the traditional music played in that tribe, Khamari. The journalist had written that the movement of the dance was "entirely sexual temptation and suggestion". But in the first court hearings in May the officer pleaded not guilty. According to AFP the journalist may have been killed because she had complained to the emir about having been ill-treated after publishing an article criticising the police.
In the same issue she had written an article on Bedouin tribes, saying that they provided many policemen for the country, who were incapable of doing their jobs. She was also involved in many lawsuits following complaints by her employees for financial reasons. On 1 January 2002 the case was still under way.
Two journalists jailed
On 1 January 2001 at least two journalists had been behind bars in Kuwait since 1991.
Fawwaz Mohammed Al-Awadi Bessisso and Ibtisam Berto Suleiman Al-Dakhil were sentenced to death in June 1991 for working for the newspaper Al Nida, the propaganda organ of the Iraqi occupation forces. A total of 17 journalists were arrested and sentenced for "collaboration with a hostile country". Death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. The trial failed to meet international standards: hasty court martial, secret witnesses, absence of debate, allegations of torture, etc. Despite pressure from human rights organisations, these two journalists did not benefit from the 25 February amnesty (the anniversary of the liberation of Kuwait).
Pressure and obstruction
In April 2001 the Kuwaiti embassy in Lebanon informed Mona Chatila, owner and editor-in-chief of the fortnightly Al-Tadamon al-Arabi wal-Douali, that the latest issue of her newspaper had been seized at Kuwait City airport. The information minister furthermore banned this publication in the emirate. The authorities refused to renew the accreditation of the newspaper’s Kuwait correspondent, Oulfat Farid who also worked for other publications.
Lastly, they informed Mona Chatila that she was prohibited from visiting Kuwait. A photo of Saddam Hussein and his son Oudai had been on the front page of the last issue of Al-Tadamon al-Arabi wal-Douali. The fortnightly had its head office in Cyprus but its editorial offices and its printers in Lebanon.