KUWAIT: Prior to its ratification in parliament, the electronic media law was met with mixed reactions mainly between two groups; one that sees the law as a necessary medium to regulate a field that remains uncovered by existing laws, and another which fears it might introduce further restrictions on freedom of speech. Last October, MP Saleh Ahour said the bill, which was still a draft law at the time, “aims at silencing people and suppressing freedom.”

After the law was passed, MP Jamal Al-Omar, who voted against the law, said this is yet another legislation like others that will be used by the government to curb freedoms, adding that it can be easily challenged in the constitutional court. Information Minister Sheikh Salman Al-Humoud Al-Sabah however insisted the law is aimed at regulating electronic media and it will not apply to personal accounts like those of bloggers.

On January 11, 2016, Amnesty International denounced a “repressive” cybercrimes law in Kuwait, warning that it would further muzzle free speech. The law, which took effect the same day, criminalizes online expression including criticism of the government, religious figureheads or foreign leaders. Dozens of people in Kuwait have already been arrested and prosecuted – some jailed – under other legislation for comments made on social media sites such as Twitter.

Journalist and prisoner of conscience Ayad Khaled Al-Harbi, 26, has been in prison since October 2014 in connection with, among other things, tweets deemed critical of His Highness Amir and government and echoing the words of prominent government critic, Musallam al-Barrak, as well as verses of poetry criticizing Arab rulers.

Blogger Hamad Al-Naqi is currently serving a 10-year prison term for posting comments on Twitter that were considered critical of the leaders of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and other messages deemed “insulting” to Islam. He is a prisoner of conscience.

Prisoner of conscience, Abdullah Fairouz, a human rights defender and political activist, is serving a five-year jail term because he posted tweets saying that those who lived in royal palaces should not be immune from prosecution.

On 28 July 2014, lawyer Khaled al-Shatti tweeted a thinly veiled condemnation of members of the armed group calling itself Islamic State. He was sentenced to one year in prison with immediate implementation by a Misdemeanours Court on 17 December for insult to religion. However the Appeals Court halted the implementation of this sentence until it issued its verdict. If Khaled Al-Shatti is jailed, he will be a prisoner conscience.