Wed Nov 24, 2010
KUWAIT CITY (AFP) – Two international human rights bodies on Wednesday condemned a one-year jail sentence handed to a prominent Kuwaiti writer for criticising the prime minister and called for his immediate release.
"The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns a one-year prison sentence given to Mohammed Abdulqader al-Jassem, a Kuwaiti writer and journalist," the watchdog said in a statement posted on its website.
Another group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), called on Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al-Ahmad al-Sabah, a senior member of the ruling family, to withdraw charges against Jassem.
"Kuwait?s prime minister should withdraw charges against a writer accused of libel and slander and free him from prison immediately," the New York-based body said in a statement e-mailed to AFP.
Jassem?s "conviction is one more assault on freedom of expression in Kuwait," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.
"The court?s decision flies in the face of human rights law, which prohibits governments from sending people to jail for non-violent opinions," she said.
The case is only one of 18 that the government has filed against the journalist in the past year, CPJ said.
Jassem, 54 and a heart patient, was arrested on Monday hours after the lower court convicted him of slandering the prime minister who was appointed to the post five years ago.
He was convicted over an article he posted on his website a year ago charging that Iranian intelligence was interfering in Kuwaiti affairs through a leading businessman close to the premier.
Jassem and his lawyer Abdullah al-Ahmad told AFP they would challenge the verdict in the court of appeals.
The CPJ's Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator, Mohamed Abdel Dayem, said: "We call on the Kuwaiti appeals court to overturn the conviction against ... Jassem and for the government to stop its patently politicised persecution of this prominent journalist.
"It is absurd that the authorities will pursue 18 different cases against a critical journalist until he is silenced."
At a public rally called by several political groups in support of Jassem late on Tuesday, opposition MPs Faisal al-Muslim and Mussallam al-Barrak called on the prime minister to step down.
Jassem, a prominent critic of the prime minister, had already been detained twice over the past year for a total of two months in connection with cases filed by the government.
In October, Kuwait dropped 27 positions in the Reporters Without Borders world press rankings for 2010. The watchdog cited the emirate's harsh treatment of Jassem as the main reason.