Arrests in Kuwait stir free-speech debate
James Calderwood, Foreign Correspondent, The National (UAE)
Last Updated: July 06. 2010 11:32PM UAE / July 6. 2010 7:32PM GMT
KUWAIT CITY // When Mohammed al Jassem, a prominent writer jailed for criticising public officials, was released on bail two weeks ago, free-speech advocates who had taken to the streets to demand his release had little time to celebrate.
Khaled al Fadala, 33, the secretary general of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), was sentenced to three months in prison on June 30 for insulting the prime minister. Many Kuwaitis believe the consecutive detentions are a sign that the government is clamping down on freedom of expression in a country known for a lively media and outspoken MPs.
“It seems the government is losing focus and they don’t know what they are doing,” Mr al Jassem said at a gathering of citizens at the NDA’s headquarters on Monday demanding al Fadala’s release.
“I think they are destroying the country one way or another. And they are badly affecting the relationship between the Al Sabah family and the Kuwaiti people. This is all new.”
Kuwaiti citizens had expressed their displeasure with Mr al Jassem’s detention since he began his sentence in May by staging protests at his brother-in-law’s property in Al Andalus. On Thursday, those who gathered there to welcome him home made their way across town in a convoy of SUVs and sports cars to the NDA’s headquarters in Al Nuzha to vent their frustrations over the conviction of al Fadala who was to begin serving his sentence the next day.
“The sentence was three months in prison without bail, this is very important,” said al Fadala’s father, Sanad, at the protest on Monday, in which several parliamentarians addressed a crowd of about 200 people.
“This is the first time this happened for many years in Kuwait, that there is no bail for this charge. There are many, many cases, even against politicians and writers, and all of
“Because it’s a political case, even if it is presented as slander,” Sanad al Fadala said.
Lama al Fadala said her brother was charged with insulting the prime minister, Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al Ahmed al Sabah, after speaking about a controversy involving the prime minister’s expenses at protest in front of parliament in November. She said several prominent politicians who spoke at the event, used “harsher words”, but have not been charged with any offence.
“The expenses were not dreamt up, they were from the Audit Bureau, which is official,” Ms al Fadala said.“He refused to keep things hush-hush anymore.”
Khaled’s father said the government is trying to make an example of his son because of “the growth of his career as an activist over the last 10 years”.
Khaled al Fadala has campaigned on such issues as the reduction of the electoral constituencies from 25 to five, and on eliminating government corruption, topics that have rankled with the government, his father said. In 2009, he was elected leader the NDA, making him a powerful voice of the country’s liberal youth.
“They are using the rally, some outspoken words, as an excuse to suppress him,” his father said.
Mr al Fadala’s father said the family visited his son in prison on Sunday and “his moral is very high”.
“If he does end up staying three months, he’s coming out stronger, not weaker,” Lama al Fadala said. “If anyone thinks he’s broken, he’s not.”
One of the liberal parliamentarians who attended Monday’s rally, Abdulrahman al Anjari, said: “I remember during the time of previous emirs and previous prime ministers, the opposition in Kuwait used to criticise the government, the prime minister, in so many things. Nobody took anyone to court.”
He said he believes that the government is trying to “stop the momentum” of a highly educated and politically aware young generation.
Many of the parliamentarians who spoke at the gathering warned against government interference in the judiciary.
Before leaving for a ministerial meeting in Cairo yesterday, Sheikh Mohammed Sabah al Sabah, the foreign minister, said, “We welcome any criticism against our government practices,” Kuna, the state news agency reported. “The judiciary is a protected authority that observes justice,” Mr al Sabah was reported to have said.
Mr al Jassem, the released writer, will face state security charges of “attacking the regime” when he returns to court on September 20.
He said since his release he has been busy organising a campaign “to try and convince the government to stop this kind of action”.
He said he has news “from different sources, some inside the state security police” that two other activists, including the politician Musallam al Barrak, could soon face state security charges in court.
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I think I can see the tip of the iceberg from here...
And - I also think - that if Musallam Al Barrak is arrested, there is going to be major upheaval in the country.