Kuwait says backs free speech but must protect Emir

February 05, 2013 - 4:42:17 am

KUWAIT: Kuwait supports free speech but must act against illegal comments made about the  state’s ruler, the government said yesterday, after a Twitter user was jailed for five years.

A Kuwaiti court sentenced a man to prison on Sunday for insulting the Emir on the social networking site, a rights lawyer and news websites said, in the latest prosecution for criticism of authorities via social media. 

“Kuwait has a longstanding proud tradition of open debate and free speech,” the Ministry of Information, which regulates the media, said in a statement to Reuters addressing the case.

“We are a country led by the rule of law and our constitution holds our Emir to be inviolable. If our citizens wish to amend the constitution there is a straightforward legal way to do this, but we will not selectively enforce our laws.”  

In recent months Kuwait has penalised several Twitter users for criticising the Emir, who is described as “immune and inviolable” in the constitution. 

Kuwait allows the most dissent in the region and boasts a lively press and critical political debate. But the US ally has been clamping down on politically sensitive comments aired on the Internet in recent months.

Twitter is extremely popular in the country of 3.7 million inhabitants and well-known figures can have hundreds of thousands of followers. In January, a court sentenced two men in separate cases to jail time for insulting the Emir on Twitter.