The 2016 cybercrime law includes severe penalties for those who violate its provisions or try to breach the privacy and confidentiality of its terms. The implementation of the law sparked a wave of rage from activists on social media, who saw it as narrowing the freedom of opinion, especially since we are witnessing a technological revolution in the world, which means that there is enough space to express opinions without restrictions or criminalization.
Since then, people have been divided in maintaining a consistent position towards this law, with differences between supporters and opponents according to their points of view and experience. Some said the law will preserve the privacy and security of Internet users, whether on social networks or websites that are heavily exposed to intrusions, especially websites of government agencies that have confidential files. It also targets those who insult others.
One of the provisions of the cyber law is that a person who threatens to kill a person, harm the dignity of a person or damage their honor can be punished by up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of KD 5,000 to KD 20,000 or either of the two penalties. Opponents of this law are mostly young people and activists who find social networking sites a means to express their personal views on issues of internal or external societies.
Statistics of the public prosecution published by Al-Qabas daily in June 2017 stated that despite the adoption of the Information Technology Act, the number of harassers has increased, as 90 percent of the complaints handled and investigated from the beginning of 2017 till the end of May were concerned with libel charges. The law considers cyberspace a “public place and therefore offensive speech is considered a crime”.
In Jan 2018, the government issued a field study conducted by the department of statistics and research at the ministry of justice, which noted an increase in cybercrime in the Kuwaiti society. It indicated that about 75 percent of citizens and residents use the Internet daily, but 32 percent of them are unaware of the penalties resulting from these crimes.
The study also revealed that cybercrime jumped from 20 percent to 170 percent during 2014 to 2016. The study stressed that crimes committed against children on the Internet call for the adoption of proactive measures of the child protection law by the state with competent authorities, and applying this law to educational and technical aspects that contribute to preventing this phenomenon. The findings indicate that the number of cybercrime cases increased year to year. As to the average number of cases recorded during the period 2016-2010, three cases were filed every three days. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, there were six cases per day. This is a big jump, I believe.
We are now in 2019. I trust that we have the right to see things more clearly. I personally have been against any law restricting the freedom of expression, but I do not agree with the slander and abuse of others. I think some of the clauses of the law need to be reviewed. For example, the study confirmed that the department of juvenile welfare recently dealt with 30 female students accused of posting an abusive poster on Twitter against their school principal. Another unusual case involved a man who took pictures of a married woman and posted them on Twitter.
Recently, everyone was surprised by the news of a Kuwaiti female professor who fled to the United States because she posted a sarcastic joke on her birthday on her Twitter account. She used a method that is used by foreigners and meant to ridicule the situation and not the Creator, but she was accused of insulting Allah and was referred to the public prosecution, so she left the country for good.
I think she found no way but to leave her country and live abroad. Many others have also fled or left the country due to verdicts that were issued because of this law. The question remains – why to keep a law if its negative outcomes are huge and reflect badly on the country’s reputation more than its positives and which has turned into an oppressive nightmare for intellectuals and educated Kuwaitis?
Saleh Ashour is a member of the National Assembly representing the first constituency. He recently said the cybercrime law is bad as its application had led to the exodus of Kuwaiti politicians, pilots, doctors, engineers and young people, and it is time to abolish this law because Kuwait is a country of freedom of expressing opinions and intellectual pluralism. This courageous statement by a strong and committed MP means that there is real harm not only to these figures, but on the reputation of the country. It is also repulsive to citizens because they may express personal convictions without experience or understanding, especially young people.
One of the results of the study was the demand of community awareness sessions on e-crimes. I think the issuance of fines for those who speak badly and use abusive words is acceptable, but the harsh prison sentences make me wonder about the future of a person who is imprisoned with murderers and drug dealers for many years for a word they wrote. I hope MP Ashour can convince more MPs of his position and that the media adopt this issue and demand a review of the law. It’s about time.
By Muna Al-Fuzai