Kuwaiti Cyber Crimes Law silences dissent: ongoing prosecution of Sara Al-Drees

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Kuwait’s Cyber Crimes Law has effectively silenced dissent in the country, and brought human rights defenders to trial, including blogger Sara Al-Drees, who faces up to five years in jail for a tweet. A trial observation report outlines the violations of international law that occurred during her trial, following a mission to Kuwait in November by a coalition of groups.

The coalition of rights groups which monitored the trial was composed of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), and FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.

The Public Prosecution’s office accused Al-Drees of allegedly defaming the Emir of Kuwait, violating the Cyber Crimes law and the misuse of a mobile phone in relation to the tweets that she published on her twitter account, which were reported by the Cyber Crimes Unit.

A trial observer attended the hearing of Al-Drees in the Court of First Instance in Kuwait City on 24 November 2016 and produced a trial observation report. The analysis of the charges and prosecution has been supplemented by field investigation and consultation with human rights defenders in Kuwait. The trial is ongoing and the next hearing is expected in December 2016.

On 22 September 2016, the Public Prosecution issued an order to imprison Al-Drees for 21 days in connection with the case. On 25 September 2016, Al-Drees surrendered herself voluntarily and was transferred to the central prison. She began a hunger strike to protest her imprisonment.

On 06 October 2016, the Criminal Court in Kuwait held the first hearing in the trial of Al-Drees. The court ordered her released on a bail of 500 Kuwaiti Dinars (US$1,656) and adjourned the hearing to 27 October 2016. She was then freed from prison after the court imposed a travel ban on her. See: http://www.gc4hr.org/news/view/1388. The hearing was adjourned on 27 October to 24 November.

Noting some of the violations of international law, the trial observer says, “Al-Drees was subject to prima facie unlawful detention for 11 days and faces a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment for tweets which, on any reasonable view, constitute a legitimate exercise in freedom of expression under international law.” However, some aspects of her case complied with the law, such as her ability to choose an independent lawyer of her choice.

He continues, “The residual independence of the Kuwaiti judicial system, in the face of decisions by state security/the Public Prosecutor, is not adequate to remedy the unfairness created by the laws themselves – Article 25, in particular.”

The trial observer notes, “Article 25 of the Penal Code already effectively places Kuwait’s ruler beyond any public criticism. But the concurrent use of the new Cybercrimes law in this case constitutes a further erosion of the space for the free exchange of opinion and ideas.”

The report also details wider legal issues facing journalists and human rights defenders in the country, which forms part of the context to ongoing prosecutions by the State in 2016.

The terms of political debate, which had been on the verge of a new opening after 2011, have been firmly narrowed on all sides – not least through the closure of independent media like Al-Yawm. Meanwhile the Bedoon issue remains off the table, the Courts remain full and the Emir himself, as the Al-Drees trial indicates, lies beyond even the mildest of public reproach, concludes the report.

GCHR, ANHRI, ISHR, FIDH and OMCT urge the authorities in Kuwait to:

1. Drop the charges against Sarah Al-Drees, as they violate the right to freedom of opinion and expression;

2. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders and bloggers are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities and to exercise their right to freedom of expression without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment; and

3. More generally comply with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and notably Articles 1, 5 and 12.2.

Read the full report online.

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