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Kuwaiti journalists blasted a state plan for tougher punishment of press offences, and urged parliament to reject amendments to existing laws. Newspaper and television editors met and agreed to boycott lawmakers who back the amendments, said a statement from the Kuwait Journalists Association.

 

Information Minister Sheikh Ahmad Abdullah Al-Sabah told newspaper editors of plans to amend the press and publications law, and the so-called audio-visual law that controls private television stations. Sheikh Ahmad, who is also oil minister, said the amendments would stipulate penalties between one and two years for offenders “who insult God”. Publishing without an official licensee would be punishable with a fine of up to US $175,000, instead of the US $3,500 under the existing law.

 

The minister also said that broadcasting without a television license would be punishable by a two-year jail term, instead of fines stipulated under current laws. The amendments must be approved by the cabinet before they go to parliament for debate. Kuwaiti officials have in the past few weeks accused some local media of fueling political and social tensions and called for tougher penalties to curb violators.

 

January 19, 2010

 

 

Analysis and Forecast: Increasing Risk

 

This news is particularly of concern in Kuwait, which is seen as being the GCC’s and even the Arab World’s most open and democratic nation.

 

The news seems to come at a time shortly after a TV station owned by a Kuwaiti businessman was accused of stirring up ethnic tensions when it referred to the “unkuwaitness” of some elements of the Kuwaiti society, including Shiites. However, the timing is more likely to be opportunistic to piggy-bag on the recent row. Local media has often been critical of the Kuwaiti government and certain members of the royal family, including the information and oil minister himself.

 

If the proposed law is passed, it will likely lead to civil tensions as journalists will not easily be forced to limit their criticisms of the Kuwaiti government. The proposal itself could also be a point of further contention between the government and parliament.