Kuwait: Authorities Close Dar Al Watan Newspaper in Retaliation for Liberal Editorial Line; Al Watan TV Risks Same Fate
On 19 March 2015, Alkarama sent an urgent appeal to the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (SR FRDX) on the case of Dar Al Watan Journalism Printing and Publishing Company, which has been subjected to reprisals, including the withdrawal of its licence and the closing of its premises for political reasons. At the same time, Alkarama raised the attention of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Al Watan TV, which is under the imminent risk of being subjected to the same fate for the same reasons.
For the past year, the state of freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Kuwait has significantly deteriorated, as exemplified in the case of Dar Al Watan. This decision follows pressures from the authorities against the newspaper to change its editorial line so it becomes less critical of them. Over time, these pressures took the form of indirect threats and unofficial warnings. Nonetheless, the newspaper had courageously persisted to fulfil its fourth estate duty by providing balanced and fair information, in the belief that constitutional guarantees were sufficient to protect the media from executive power.
On 19 January 2015, and despite a court order suspending the administrative decision, a representative of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry came to Dar Al Watan's headquarters to proceed to close the newspaper's offices, thus preventing its publication. Since then, hundreds of people working for the newspaper have been prevented from performing their duties and from participating in the realisation of their right to free expression and ensure the right to information of their fellow citizens.
This happened after a lengthy procedure in which the executive, namely the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Ministry of Information kept issuing arbitrary decisions ordering the withdrawal of the newspaper's licence and the closing of its premises. Although these decisions were suspended by the judiciary, the executive ignored them and decided to close the newspaper, in violation of not only international human rights law but also of its domestic legislation. Although the decision is "officially" based on the reason that the publishing company has not been meeting the financial and commercial requirements in order to keep its licence to publish, not only these particular requirements are not mentioned in the applicable Kuwaiti law (Law on Information), but also the domestic law provides that media licenses may not be revoked without a court order.
Today, Al Watan TV is threatened by the authorities to be subjected to the same administrative procedures and to have its licence to broadcast cancelled as well as their premises closed.
In its urgent appeal to the SR FRDX, Alkarama submitted that the executive's decision against Dar Al Watan – and the threats that Al Watan TV is facing – are of purely political nature and constitute an abuse of power. "This situation has created a dangerous precedent because these decisions target an independent media particularly appreciated for its independent, moderate and free editorial line," said Radidja Nemar, Regional Legal Officer for the Gulf at Alkarama. "The executive's insistence in carrying out this decision despite contradictory orders from the judiciary proves its political character. This situation has left Dar Al Watan's journalists unable to carry out their mission, and other Kuwaiti journalists to exercise self-censorship or to fear a similar fate."
According to Alkarama, the purely political motives of the decisions constitute a severe violation of article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ratified by Kuwait in May 1996, which states that : "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice." This article imposes on States parties an obligation to guarantee the independence and editorial freedom of news agencies.
Additionally, Alkarama recalled that according to the Human Rights Committee, when a State party imposes restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression, these may not put in jeopardy the right itself (General Comment No.34). The case of Dar Al Watan newspaper and Al Watan TV are clear illustrations of the kind of restrictions that are not allowed under international cutomary law.
Lastly, free, diverse and independent media are essential in any society to promote and protect freedom of opinion and expression and other human rights. By their behaviour, the Kuwaiti Government is not only violating article 19 of the ICCPR, but also article 25, by denying its citizens their right to freely access information and to participate in public affairs, as this right implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues and inform public opinion, without censorship or restraint.
In consequence, Alkarama asked the Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression (SR FRDX), David Kaye, to intervene urgently with the Kuwaiti authorities, reminding them of their commitments under international law and requesting that they cancel their decision and abstain from taking any similar retaliation against Al Watan TV. Dar Al Watan should be allowed to re-open its facilities and resume its activities immediately, since the measures taken by the authorities are violating, not only their international obligations, but also their domestic law.
For more information or an interview, please contact the media team at firstname.lastname@example.org (Dir: +41 22 734 1007 Ext: 810)