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CPJ protests journalist's ongoing detention

(CPJ/IFEX) - 18 June 2010 - In an open letter to the Emir of Kuwait, CPJ expresses concern about the extrajudicial detention of prominent journalist Mohammed Abdulqader al-Jassem:

June 18, 2010
Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah
The Emir of Kuwait
P.O. Box 1

Via e-mail: [email protected]

Your Royal Highness,

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, is concerned about the ongoing extrajudicial detention of Mohammed Abdulqader al-Jassem, a prominent journalist and founding editor of the Arabic editions of Foreign Policy and Newsweek. We call on you to ensure that this egregious violation of press freedom is rectified in al-Jassem's June 21 court hearing and that he is released immediately.

We have observed with alarm the politicized nature of al-Jassem's treatment. Al-Jassem, in custody since May 11, was charged with "instigating to overthrow the regime," "slight to the personage of the emir," and "instigating to dismantle the foundations of Kuwaiti society" based on articles he published on his Web site. On May 12, al-Jassem went on a hunger strike to protest his detention. His condition deteriorated, and he was transferred to a hospital, where he ended his strike.

For the first five days of his interrogation, al-Jassem did not have access to his attorney and was not allowed to see his family, which are both illegal under Kuwaiti law. He is currently being held in Kuwait City's central prison. Then al-Jassem was brought into court blindfolded, with his hands cuffed, and was confined to a courtroom cage usually reserved for terror suspects and violent criminals. On May 24, according to al-Jassem's lawyer, Abdullah al-Ahmad, the ministries of justice and information banned local news coverage of the case.

Al-Jassem's detention and trial are in violation of several legal provisions. Article 37 of Kuwait's constitution guarantees a free press. Kuwait's Press Law states unambiguously that legal recourse must be initiated within 90 days of the date of the publication. The charges leveled against al-Jassem are based on 32 articles, some of which date back as far as 2005, according to his lawyer. Kuwait's criminal procedure code states that pretrial detention must not exceed 21 days; al-Jassem has been detained for 38 days.

Kuwait's laws, and particularly its Press Law, are widely hailed in the Arab world as among the most progressive in the region. We urge you to acknowledge that critical writing such as al-Jassem's has an established place in Kuwaiti society and should not be criminalized.

You have, in several speeches, highlighted the importance of a free press and of "constructive criticism." On January 30, 2006, a day after your ascension to power, you felt compelled "to point to the constructive and special role of our local journalists in covering and talking about the precise experience that the country went through." You praised Kuwaiti journalists for their "balance, responsibility, and wisdom." Those words risk being rendered meaningless if they are not reflective of the conditions under which Kuwait's media are operating.

Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your reply.

Joel Simon
Executive Director

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