Kuwait urged to release blogger who criticised Prime Minister

Amnesty International has called on the Kuwaiti government to release a blogger and journalist who has gone on hunger strike in protest at his detention on charges of defamation.Muhammad ‘Abd al-Qader al-Jasem voluntarily turned himself in to State Security officials on Monday, after being informed that a warrant for his arrest had been prepared, He was wanted for allegedly making comments critical of the Kuwaiti Prime Minister, Sheikh Nasser Al Sabah, and has since begun a hunger strike against what he has termed his “political trial”.The writer has been questioned by State Security officials about articles and books he has published, including those published up to five years ago, while interrogators are said to be poring over articles on his website.. Al-Jasem’s lawyer told Amnesty International on Friday that requests to see his client and allow family visits had been ignored.”The constant hounding of Muhammad ‘Abd al-Qader al-Jasem makes a mockery of Kuwait’s much vaunted claim that they respect freedom of thought and opinion,” said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa deputy director.”He is a prisoner of conscience, held solely for expressing his views, and all charges against him must be dropped.”Prime Minister Al Sabah is said to have lodged five official complaints of defamation against al-Jasem, while a confidant of the Prime Minister has filed 10 more, according to al-Jasem’s lawyer.The journalist was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in 1 April on criminal slander charges, after calling for the Prime Minister’s resignation and saying he was incapable of running the country at a conference in February.He was released on bail of 5,000 Kuwaiti dinars (around US$17,500), pending an appeal hearing. On 2 April, he wrote an article saying that he would continue to express his opinions.The news of his renewed detention comes as the Kuwaiti authorities have been explaining to the international community, before the UN Human Rights Council in the framework of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), that their constitution guarantees freedom of expression.“On Wednesday, the Kuwaiti authorities told the world the Constitution supports freedom of expression, yet the prosecution of Muhammad ‘Abd al-Qader al-Jasem demonstrates how disconnected such statements are from the reality faced by government critics in Kuwait,” said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui.Officials are said to be scrutinizing every one of al-Jasem’s blog posts from the last five years, as well as a book he published in 2006, despite laws that preclude legal claims against published work more than 90 days after publication.On 22 November 2009, Muhammad ‘Abd al-Qader al-Jasem was arrested and held for 12 days after criticizing the Prime Minister during a private meeting in October 2009. The arrest and detention of Muhammad ‘Abd al-Qader al-Jasem are in breach of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression. UN human rights experts say alleged defamation of public figures, such as politicians, should not be criminalized, as those in the public eye “should be expected to tolerate more criticism than private citizens”. They have also said freedom of opinion and expression involves the right to freely criticize politicians and other public personalities.