Journalist group says Kuwait planning "repressive" law

KUWAIT, April 24 Wed Apr 24, 2013 1:17pm EDT

KUWAIT, April 24 (Reuters) - Kuwait should scrap plans for a "repressive" new media law, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said on Wednesday, saying the draft legislation would severely undermine press freedom.

As the government of the Gulf Arab monarchy faces ongoing opposition protests, the law would steeply increase fines on journalists deemed to have insulted the state.

The government passed the "Unified Media Law" earlier this month and it now needs approval from parliament and the emir, but the New York-based campaign group said it would mean "inflated" fines as well as "unjustified restrictions on election coverage, and ambiguous regulations for online media."

Kuwait's media are among the most free in the Gulf region and the government generally tolerates more political dissent.

However, in recent months dozens of activists have been charged with insulting the emir and several have been handed jail sentences.

The draft law proposes fines of up to 300,000 dinars ($1 million), up sharply from the previous maximum financial of 20,000 dinars, the CPJ said.

Insulting the emir or crown prince would carry the largest fines. There would also be fines of up to 100,000 dinars for insulting the constitution, the flag, harming public morals, inciting crimes, harming relations with other governments and slandering public servants.

The Ministry of Information has said that the law is positive for journalists because it replaces prison penalties for "secular offences" with fines, but the CPJ said: "the fines are so steep that journalists could be sent to jail anyway..."

Kuwait's main private newspapers have also said the law would violate free speech. (Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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