The following joint statement was released on 21 January 2016.
The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), Article 19, Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are seriously concerned about the impact of the new Cyber Crimes Law no. 63, which came into force on 12 January 2016, on freedom of expression and online activism in Kuwait. The law was published in the official newspaper on 07 July 2015 after being approved by the National Assembly on 16 June 2015.
The new legislation contains 21 articles which seek to regulate a number of online activities in Kuwait. In particular, we are concerned that the new law, especially articles 4, 6 and 7, could be used to limit freedom of expression on the Internet, as well as to target online activists including bloggers and citizen journalists.
Under international human rights law, any restriction on freedom of expression must meet the three-part test under Article 19 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ('ICCPR'), i.e. it must be (1) provided by law; (2) pursue a legitimate aim as enumerated under Article 19 (3); and (3) be necessary and proportionate [in a democratic society]. We believe that the Kuwaiti Cybercrimes law fails those tests and is therefore in breach of international law.
Overly Broad Restrictions on Public Morality Grounds: Article 4 (4) punishes by imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years and a fine of not less than two thousand dinars and not exceeding five thousand dinars: “Item 4. Whoever establishes a website or publishes or produces or prepares or creates or sends or stores information or data with a view to use, distribute or display to others via the Internet or an information technology device that would prejudice public morality or manages a place for this purpose.”
In our view, Article 4 is overly broad. In particular, it fails to define what constitutes 'prejudice to public morality'. We are therefore concerned that this article could be used to target online activists expressing controversial views on religious or other matters of public interest on spurious “public morality” grounds.
Overly Broad Restrictions Based on the Press and Publications Law: Article 6 is based on Article 27 (1, 2 and 3) of the Press and Publications Law (no. 3/2006) which punishes editors and writers who commit acts that are described in article 19, 20 and 21 of the law, with up to one year imprisonment and a fine of up to 20,000 Dinars. We are concerned that items (1, 2, 3 and 4) of Article 27 give powers to the Criminal Court to punish any of the described acts by revoking the license or shutting down a newspaper for a period not exceeding one year, as well as the confiscation of published copies. Some of the acts described in articles 19, 20 and 21 are listed below:
1. Criticizing the Head of State, which is in this case the Emir himself.
2. The publication of anything that would:
a. Show contempt or disdain for the State Constitution;
b. Insult or demonstrate contempt for the judiciary or prosecutors or prejudice the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary or interfere with what the courts and investigating authorities decide should not be disclosed;
c. Prejudice public morals or incite to breach public order or violation of laws or to commit crimes even if the crime did not occur.
In our view, Article 6 of the Cybercrime Law and Articles 19, 20, and 21 of the Press and Publications Law are excessively broad. In particular, we are concerned that Article 6 will significantly threatens freedom of opinion and expression on the Internet and the right to receive and impart information of Internet users in Kuwait. Furthermore, Article 6 appears to be designed to target activists and citizens journalists who are expressing their opinions about ongoing events in their country on social networking sites. While Kuwait has generally demonstrated considerable respect for freedom of expression compared to other Gulf countries, we are concerned that this article will turn Kuwait into a much more repressive state where bloggers and Kuwaiti citizens are punished for expressing dissenting or critical viewpoints on the Internet.
Sedition: We are further concerned about Article 7, which includes punishment not exceeding 10 years for a number of acts listed in Article 28 of the Press and Publications Law (no. 3/2006), including “the publication of incitement to overthrow the regime in the country.” Human rights organisations, as well as individual human rights defenders, are also likely to be targeted under this article.
We firmly believe that the new Cyber Crimes Law is a direct assault on the right to freedom of opinion and belief and the right to freedom of expression and it is going to be used by the authorities in Kuwait to restrict freedom of expression and opinion on various social media networks. We are also very concerned that it could be used against human rights defenders, including bloggers and online activists, who cover human rights issues in their writings and bring them to the attention of international human rights bodies or organisations.
We therefore urge the relevant Kuwaiti authorities to:
- Immediately repeal Articles 4, 6 and 7 of the Cybercrimes Law. At the very least, the application of Articles 4, 6 and 7 should be suspended pending its repeal so as to ensure that bloggers and activists are not unduly targeted.
- Immediately repeal the Press and Publications Law. At the very least, the application of Articles 19, 20, 21, 27 and 28 should be suspended pending the repeal of the law.
- Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders, including online activists, are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of restrictions including judicial harassment.