Rights group blasts Kuwait's proposed media law

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Human Rights Watch said Thursday a proposed media law by Kuwait would increase state control and curtail the right to free speech, as authorities suspended a popular talk show program on a pro-opposition television channel.

The draft law breaches international standards protecting free speech as it would give the information ministry excessive power, the New York-based HRW said in a statement.

The draft legislation, which proposes a 10-year jail term on religious offences and a fine of over $1 million for offending the ruler, was approved by the cabinet last month but was later frozen by the prime minister to allow further consultation.

“Any press law should promote free speech and the free flow of information so essential to any democratic society, not throttle reporting and debate,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW said.

“The government should use the consultation period the prime minister announced to radically revise the draft and transform it into a law that protects and promotes free speech,” she said.

The government’s submission of the draft law came during a crackdown on free speech, HRW said. In recent months, the government has prosecuted opposition politicians, online activists and journalists on charges such as “offending the emir.”

HRW's criticism came as the information ministry suspended a popular program titled “Talk Shawk” presented by opposition journalist Mohammad al-Washeehi on Al-Youm satellite channel.

“I was informed by colleagues at the channel that the information ministry ordered Talk Shawk program stopped invoking the Audio-Visual law,” said Washeehi on his Twitter account late Wednesday.

Washeehi used his night-time program to strongly criticize the government while hosting opposition leaders to speak about local political developments.

The suspension of the program is believed to be due to an episode two days ago during which Washeehi strongly criticized members of the al-Sabah ruling family.

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