Kuwait studies possible retreat from media law

AP News
Posted: Apr 25, 2013 11:25 AM
Kuwait studies possible retreat from media law

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — Kuwait put proposals to impose tough new media laws on hold Thursday after the country's prime minister suggested that objections from press groups and others could force the Gulf nation to scrap the plans.

Rights groups and media watchdogs have criticized the draft law, announced earlier this month, because it would impose possible penalties such as fines of nearly $1 million for insulting Kuwait's Western-backed emir. The proposals also would give authorities greater leeway to close and control websites and other online outlets.

A retreat would ease some pressure on Kuwait's government, but the country still faces criticism over a recent wave of arrests targeting bloggers and others. The media crackdown is part of similar steps across the Gulf Arab states to quell perceived dissent since the Arab Spring.

The official Kuwait News Agency quoted Prime Minister Jaber Al Mubarak Al Sabah as saying the proposals have been placed on hold and could be dropped as officials consider the opposition. The comments followed a meeting late Wednesday with Kuwaiti editors.

Hours earlier, the Committee to Protect Journalists had appealed for Kuwait to abandon the new codes, saying the steep fines could bankrupt media companies or force journalists to go to prison because they couldn't afford them.

Kuwait has the most politically open society among the Gulf states and has a tradition of relative press freedom. But authorities have been locked in an escalating battle with opposition groups.

Regardless of the outcome of the media law, the general trend across the Gulf has pointed to a tougher line against traditional media and highly popular social media networks such as Twitter.

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Earlier this month, Bahrain's government backed proposals to impose penalties of up five years in prison for insulting the Gulf state's king or its national symbols. Bahrain has faced more than two years of nonstop unrest from an Arab Spring-inspired uprising by majority Shiites seeking a greater political voice in the strategic Sunni-ruled kingdom, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

The United Arab Emirates last year set stricter Internet monitoring and enforcement codes that give authorities wider powers to crack down on Web activists for offenses such as mocking the country's rulers or calling for demonstrations. In Qatar, a poet is fighting a 15-year prison sentence for a verse considered as a challenge to the ruling system.