Rana Jasem Al-Sadoun, a prominent Kuwaiti activist, has been given a three-year sentence for publicly criticizing the oil-rich country’s Emir. Based in Lebanon, she was convicted in absentia. She is the latest activist in a string of convictions against those accused of insulting the country’s leader. While the small country on the Persian Gulf is seen as more moderate than other Gulf states, criticism of the Emir – a hereditary dynasty – rarely goes unpunished.
The activist, who founded the National Committee for Monitoring Violations, a free speech organization, repeated parts of a speech made by opposition leader Mussallam al-Barrak. In that speech, delivered in 2012, al-Barrak warned that the country’s leader, 86-year-old Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, was abusing his power.
Al-Barrak is currently behind bars as part of a two-year sentence. Barrak has said the ruling was a politically-motivated move against the freedom of speech. It was not immediately clear if Al-Sadoun would be sent to Kuwait to serve out her sentence.
In the past three years alone, dozens of jail sentences have been handed down to activists and former lawmakers, including 21 who also repeated parts of al-Barrak’s now notorious speech. Several from Al-Sadoun’s organization have also been arrested.
Freedom House has described Kuwait as having a “moderately open” press environment, despite the government shutting down several media operations in 2013. A media law widely seen by rights activists as punitive is in place, which dictates that insulting the emir or crown prince carries large fines.
Kuwait has about a dozen daily newspapers, mostly private, which often criticize the government. With digital literacy at 75 per cent, and most foreign media outlets fully functioning in Kuwait, including Reuters and the BBC, the issue of maintaining no criticism towards the ruling family is becoming more difficult.