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Middle East

Kuwaiti jailed for insulting emir on Twitter

Ayyad al-Harbi sentenced to two years in prison for his tweet, the second such sentence handed down in two days.
Last Modified: 08 Jan 2013 10:02
Kuwait has seen a number of political protests in recent months, including one on Sunday night [Reuters]

A Kuwaiti court has sentenced a man to two years in prison for insulting the country's ruler on Twitter, his lawyer says.

The man, who was sentenced on Monday, became the second person to be jailed for the offence in as many days.

Kuwait has clamped down in recent months on political activists who have been using social media websites to criticise the government and the ruling family.

The country has seen a series of protests, including one on Sunday night, since the ruling emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al Sabah, used emergency powers in October to change the voting system.

The court sentenced Ayyad al-Harbi, who has more than 13,000 followers on Twitter, to the prison term two months after his arrest and release on bail.

Harbi used his Twitter account to criticise the Kuwait government and Sheikh Sabah.

He tweeted on Sunday: "Tomorrow morning is my trial's verdict on charges of slander against the emir, spreading of false news."

His lawyer, Mohammed al-Humidi, said Harbi would appeal.

"We've been taken by surprise because Kuwait has always been known internationally and in the Arab world as a democracy-loving country," Humidi told Reuters news agency.

"People are used to democracy, but suddenly we see the constitution being undermined."

Second case

Another man, Rashid Saleh al-Anzi was given two years in prison on Sunday over a tweet that "stabbed the rights and powers of the emir", according to the online newspaper Alaan.

Anzi is expected to appeal.

In Washington, the US state department said it had seen the reports of the two men's sentences and had raised the issue with the Kuwaiti government, which it urged to respect freedom of speech.

"We call on the government of Kuwait to adhere to its tradition of respect for freedom of assembly, association, and expression," Victoria Nuland, the state department spokeswoman, said.

"You know how strongly we feel about locking people up for their use of Twitter."

Kuwait, a major oil producer, has been taking a firmer line on politically sensitive comments aired on the Internet.

In June 2012, a man was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he was convicted of endangering state security by insulting Prophet Muhammad and the Sunni Muslim rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on social media.

Two months later, authorities detained Sheikh Meshaal al-Malik Al Sabah, a member of the ruling family, over remarks on Twitter in which he accused authorities of corruption and called for political reform, a rights activist said.

Public demonstrations about local issues are common in Kuwait, a state that allows the most dissent in the Arabian Gulf, and the country has avoided Arab Spring-style mass unrest that has ousted four veteran Arab dictators in the past two years.

But tensions have risen between Kuwait's hand-picked government, in which ruling family members hold the top posts, and the elected parliament and opposition groups.

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