Kuwait didn’t earn a mention in the “worst countries for journalism” published by online ‘zine Foreign Policy, even though three of its Middle Eastern neighbors made the cut. But it should be named and shamed for the recent prosecution of a young microblogger.
According to Gulf News, the blogger was accused of using her microblog and mobile telephone to “abuse the Emir on several occasions”. Sarra Al Darees was investigated for 48 suspect tweets, four of which “tarnished the Emiri authority” and resulted in the guilty verdict. The tweets were posted on her personal Twitter account.
The court handed down a 20-month prison sentence for the tweets deemed offensive to the country’s ruler. Al Darees was also charged with taking part in an unlicensed demonstration and misuse of her mobile phone.
In the past year, several Kuwaiti bloggers have stood trial after posting tweets deemed offensive to the Emir during the opposition versus government stand-off over changes to the 2006 electoral law. Under the amendment, voters could elect only one candidate instead of four as was previously permitted.
Although opponents pressed for a boycott of the December parliamentary elections, charging that the amendment limited public power, the government declared the elections a success. Authorities had warned that they would take legal action against those who challenged the state “outside the confines of the law” or “undermined the status of the Emir.”
Al Darees’ mother, Aisha Al Ali, said that the tweets posted by her daughter were “basically to express concern about the future of Kuwait.” She added that her daughter would take the case to the Court of Cassation for appeal.
Ironically, a conservative Saudi prince holds a $300 million stake in the social media company. Arabic is the fastest growing language on Twitter, with a 2000 % increase in Arabic postings logged across 2011.
Suppressing the voice of young people gives us less hope for environmental preservation in the Middle East.