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Kuwait finalises bill to amend publication law

The government has finalised a bill amending the Press and Publications Law in which it has abolished censorship of the local press, cannot close down a publication except by court order and annulled prison sentences for journalists except for blasphemy and defamation of the Emir.

Gulf News

The government has finalised a bill amending the Press and Publications Law in which it has abolished censorship of the local press, cannot close down a publication except by court order and annulled prison sentences for journalists except for blasphemy and defamation of the Emir.

The bill must yet be discussed and endorsed by the Parliament.

Minister of Justice Ahmad Baquer, who heads the Cabinet's Legal Committee, told the media that although the government has approved substantial amendments to the law, it has stopped short of granting licences for new newspapers and magazines, asserting that "it is a negotiable issue".

The country has five major Arabic language and two English language newspapers and a large number of political and non-political magazines, but there have been repeated calls for the opening up of the media to private enterprise.

"The government prefers that such licences are granted to press companies rather than individuals," the Justice Minister said.

Al Baquer pointed out that the government considers the new press bill as one which protects the rights of both sides. Although the bill does not stipulate jail terms for journalists sharply critical of the government, the new bill imposes stiff financial penalties to replace other types of penalties included in the present law.

Parliament's Education, Culture and Guidance Committee approved the final draft of the Press and Publications Law in June and then debated it before sending it to the Cabinet.

Thirteen meetings were held to discuss the draft, during which the committee heard the viewpoints of the government as well as those of the Kuwait Journalists Association and editors-in-chief of the local dailies.

Kuwait enjoys a relatively free press environment in which newspapers are often openly critical of the government, and members of Parliament are openly quoted and sometimes even criticised.

However, it is not unknown for publications to be closed down and journalists and editors to be questioned and sometimes fined or jailed.

Another draft law finalised by the committee is a bill criminalising the misuse of bluetooth technology in mobile phones.

The bill resulted from requests by a large number of MPs after a spate of extortion and blackmail offences in September.

Fines range from 1,000 dinars (around Dh12,390) for misuse, 3,000 dinars (around Dh37,170) for invasion of privacy and a five-year sentence and 5,000 dinars (about Dh61,950) for blackmail.

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