Kuwait: New Cyber Crime Law Disrespects Freedom of Expression


On 12 January 2016, Kuwait's new Cyber Crime Law no. 63, which contains provisions that severely restrict freedom of expression on the internet, came into force. Several human rights NGOs criticised this law, as its broad definitions can be used to punish peaceful opposition and dissenting voices. In a State where fundamental rights and freedoms are extremely restricted, the enactment of such law is particularly concerning. Alkarama, therefore, denounced this law to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression (SR FRDX), David Kaye, on 27 January 2016, asking him to call upon the Kuwaiti authorities to repeal it.

Over the past years, Kuwait has been imposing several limitations on fundamental freedoms − most notably on the freedoms of expression, assembly and association − in the name of national security. Peaceful protests are violently repressed, newspapers are closed and political opponents are arbitrarily arrested. It is in this context that the entry into force of such a law, further restricting freedom of expression online, must be read.

In fact, the new law Cyber Crime Law imposes prison sentences to anyone who dares to publish or share online information that would "prejudice public morality," criticise the Emir or defame "God, the Holy Quran, Prophets, the Noble Companions of Prophet Muhammad, Wives of the Prophet [...], or persons who are part of the Prophet's family."

"These restrictions are a clear violation of Kuwait's international obligations," explains Radidja Nemar, Alkarama's Legal Officer for the Gulf region. "As a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Kuwait must guarantee that all limitations imposed on freedom of expression are necessary and proportionate to protect national security, public order, public health or morals, and not imposed as a way to silence dissenting voices."

To fulfil these requirements, the measures adopted to restrict such right must be as little intrusive as possible. Moreover, States should not prohibit criticism of State institutions, as expressed by the Human Rights Committee (HRCtee), the United Nations body of experts responsible for monitoring the implementation of the ICCPR. Nevertheless, the broad definitions used in Law No. 63 allow the government to target online activists and political opponents, who peacefully express their opinions online, in clear violation of the country's human rights obligations.

After shutting down newspapers and TV channels, Alkarama is concerned that State forces will employ the new law to restrict online platforms used by private individuals, such as social media and blogs. Alkarama, therefore, requested the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression to call upon the Kuwaiti authorities to:

  • Amend laws that criminalise any form of criticism of the ruling elite or State authorities, notably the "insult to the Emir";
  • Guarantee the right to freedom of expression, in accordance with the ICCPR;
  • End all forms of reprisal against political opponents;

For more information or an interview, please contact the media team at media@alkarama.org (Dir: +41 22 734 1008).

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