A Kuwait court sentenced to two years of prison an online journalist for posting insults about the Kuwait government and the emir Sheikh Sabah on Twitter.
While the court ordered him to begin serving his jail time immediately, his lawyer said they would appeal the decision. Ayyad al-Harbi was arrested in November 2012, because of several posts made on his Twitter account, where he is followed by over 13,000 people. In the posts, he criticized the government and asked it stop oppressing Kuwaiti citizens. He was released the next day on bail. Now, the court has convicted him on the insult charge, which, according to Article 54 of the country’s constitution, is punishable by five years of imprisonment.
Al-Harbi published opinion pieces that addressed local issues, including governmental corruption and its attitude toward the freedom of speech and women’s rights, in the Sabr, a Kuwait-based independent website that publishes news and commentary.
On January 6, 2013, al-Harbi posted a commented on Twitter, which accused the government of corruption. Later on that day, he seemed to predict that he would be indicted in the coming days for insulting the Alsabah ruling family, just as it had happened to another opposition activist, Rashed al-Anzi, who had been convicted on the same charges the previous day. Al-Anzi, who allegedly wrote a tweet criticizing the emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah in October and who has more than 5,700 followers on Twitter, also plans to appeal the two year sentence that he was given.
The two activists’ sentences are part of a larger governmental crackdown on dissidents criticizing the government and the ruling family, especially on the Internet. In June 2012, a man was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of endangering state security for insulting on a social media website Prophet Mohammad and the Sunni Muslim rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. In August 2012, Sheikh Meshaal al-Malik Al Sabah, a member of the ruling family, was detained for accusing the authorities of corruption on his Twitter and for calling for political reform.
While Kuwait has managed to avoid an Arab-Spring movement, partly because it has allowed the most dissent in the Arabian Gulf and public demonstrations have been common in the country, tensions have been increasing, between the government, dominated by the ruling family members, and the December-elected parliament and opposition groups. Other Gulf Arab states have also launched a similar crackdown on dissent leaders who have believed to be using social media websites to criticize the government. In November, a Qatari poet was sentenced to life imprisonment for an Arab Spring-themed poem, which officials claimed insulted the country’s emir.