Journalist held as a result of libel action by prime minister
|Publisher||Reporters Without Borders|
|Publication Date||24 November 2009|
|Cite as||Reporters Without Borders, Journalist held as a result of libel action by prime minister, 24 November 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4b138d068.html [accessed 18 May 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Kuwait's prosecutor general yesterday ordered the police to continue holding journalist Mohammed Abdel Qader Al-Jassem at the headquarters of the criminal investigation department after he was take in for questioning the day before in connection with a libel suit by the prime minister and then refused to pay bail of 1,000 dinars (2,345 euros).
As Kuwait's media legislation has decriminalised defamation, Al-Jassem maintains that he cannot legally be detained for refusing to pay bail in this case.
"Kuwait was the first Arab country to decriminalise press offences in 2006 and was the leading Middle Eastern country in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, but now more and more lawsuits are being brought against journalists because of internal political tension," Reporters Without Borders said.
"The 2006 press law reform abolished imprisonment for journalists but defamation actions are often being dealt with under the criminal code," the press freedom organisation continued. "Some politicians are taking advantage of this to paralyse criticism. We urge the prosecutor general to release Al-Jassem."
Prime Minister Nasser Mohammed filed his libel action before prosecutor general Hamid Al-Othman on 2 September. It names Al-Jassem and Abdelhamid Da'ass, the editor of the daily Al-Alam Al-Yaoum, and concerns a 16 August article accusing the prime minister of encouraging religious tension in order to hold on to his job.
Al-Jassem told Reporters Without Borders on 1 October that he had also referred to the prime minister's readiness to file lawsuits and his "fondness for the courts." He added: "The prime minister knows he is in a tough spot domestically. He is trying to survive despite the absurd way he has handled things, and to this end he is trying to control the media. He owns four newspapers and two TV stations, and yet he is even ready to pay for favourable stories. I don't need his money and I say what I think about Kuwaiti politics."
When question by the prosecutor general a week later, the prime minister's lawyer, Imad Al-Saif, maintained that Al-Jassem's article had defamed his client. Defamation can still be punished under the criminal code by up to two years in prison and a heavy fine.
Al-Jassem has asked his lawyer, Hammoud Al-Hajeri, to file a complaint accusing the prosecutor general of illegal detention.