Parliament adopted a new press law designed to protect journalists’ basic rights but they still avoid criticising the authorities for fear of reprisals.
The country’s parliament approved a new press law on 6 March 2006 that ended the government monopoly of issuing operating licences for the media and said that only a judge could order a journalist’s imprisonment. But decriminalisation of press offences, announced as the key innovation, was watered down by many exceptions, such as undermining Islamic law and offending God, the Prophet and his aides. These offences are dealt with under criminal law, which still allows imprisonment for them.
Further restrictions on journalistic activity were added in vague language open to many interpretations and journalists are still liable to go to prison for actions considered to be “against national interests.”
However, the new law allows political daily papers to be launched, something strongly forbidden under the old 1963 press law that limited the press to five dailies. Media outlets can also file a complaint with an administrative court if the authorities refuse to grant them an operating licence.
Journalist Aziza al-Mufarig, of the daily Al Watan, was given a three-month suspended prison sentence and fined 1,000 dinars (€2,675) on 18 November by a Kuwait City court for an article denouncing a corrupt judge. She is appealing the conviction. The paper’s editor, Sheikh Khalifa al-Sabah, was fined 150 dinars (€400).
Journalist Khaled al-Obeisan and the editor of the daily Al Seyassah, Ahmed al-Jarrallah, were arrested on 21 November and held a day for questioning after the paper ran an article describing Saddam Hussein as the lawful president of Iraq. They were charged with “inciting unrest” but freed after the communications minister withdrew his complaint.