Held Accountable

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

Ever since the creation of the ‘blog’ back in 1997, more and more people from all over the Globe have eagerly jumped onto the blogging bandwagon. Almost everyone has a blog these days covering topics that range from the silly to the mundane to the horrifically serious. These ‘citizen’ journalists compete with both local and international news media to deliver news and views that are up to the minute as they are happening. So it came as no surprise to me when I learned about the arrest and beating of a local blogger on another Kuwaiti blog (www.q8sws.blogspot.com) long before the local newspaper even had a chance to report it. The Emir’s granddaughter Bibi Nasser Al-Sabah in fact runs the blog.

The arrested blogger, Basher Al-Sayegh, was detained by the secret police this past week. The reason for his arrest was because an anonymous reader of his personal blog (www.alommah.org) left a comment that insulted the Emir of Kuwait, HH Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah. Al-Sayegh was able to delete the comment approximately 15 minutes after it was made. But it was too late. The secret police approached him at his place of work, Al-Jareeda Newspaper. They were in plain clothes so Al-Sayegh had no idea that they were even the police. A colleague of his, Jassim Al-Qames, began taking photos of the arrest on behalf of the newspaper and was also hauled off to jail. They were both beaten severely and Al-Qamas was released after one full day behind bars although not before he was forced to use his fingerprint to sign a document while blindfolded. While in custody, Al-Qamas also reported that he was slapped and insulted.

Al-Sayegh was held for three full days before he was eventually released. He now claims he was not harmed but was only forced to supply the IP Address of the anonymous poster to his blog. The poster was tracked down and is currently behind bars.

The State of Kuwait prides itself on being one of the freest presses in the Middle East. Writers and journalists continually push the envelope whether they write about taboo subjects like secret vice dens in the country or complain about the ways in which the Kuwaiti elite exploit foreign expatriate workers. This is one of the first, if not only, cases where journalists have been jailed without cause. And it has definitely left a sense of foreboding in the air. A lot of journalists in Kuwait are asking themselves these days how far is to far? And can they continue to report the news as they see it or will they face censorship and imprisonment for doing so?

An official inquiry into this incident has recently been launched by MP Mohammed Al-Sager which is aimed squarely at the First Deputy Premier, Minister of Defense and Interior Sheikh Jaber Al Sabah. Al-Sager has said that the arrests of Al-Sayegh & Al-Qames were ‘unconstitutional’. He further cited Article 31 of the Kuwaiti Constitution in his inquiry, which states:

‘No person shall be arrested, detained, searched or compelled to reside in a specified place, nor shall the residence of any person or his liberty to choose his place of residence or his liberty of movement be restricted, except in accordance with the provisions of law.’

Articles 34-37 also clearly state that accused persons are innocent until proven guilty and that freedom of speech is an inalienable right in the State of Kuwait:

Article 34

‘An accused person is presumed innocent until proved guilty in a legal trial at which the necessary guarantees for the exercise of the right of defense are secured. The infliction of physical or moral injury on an accused person is prohibited.’

Article 36

‘Freedom of opinion and of scientific research shall be guaranteed. Every person shall have the right to express and propagate his opinion verbally, in writing or otherwise, in accordance with the conditions and procedures specified by law.’

Article 37

‘Freedom of the press, printing and publishing shall be guaranteed in accordance with the conditions and manner specified by law.’

Someone clearly dropped the ball over at the Ministry of Interior and I am sure that over the course of the coming weeks several heads are going to ‘roll’. The Emir of Kuwait is a beloved figure to both Kuwaitis and non-Kuwaitis. So, no one is going to simply stand by and watch his good name be insulted. There are, however, other ways to deal with anonymous hecklers like the one that caused Al-Sayegh and Al-Qames to be arrested. It’s not necessary to turn Kuwait into a police state and lock anyone up that even bats an eye at the ruling family.


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