Kuwaiti papers suspended over "plot" tape stories - editors

KUWAIT, April 20 Sun Apr 20, 2014 11:22am EDT

KUWAIT, April 20 (Reuters) - A judge has suspended two Kuwaiti newspapers for two weeks after they published stories about a recording that discusses an alleged plot to overthrow the Gulf state's ruling system, their editors said on Sunday.

Kuwait, a major oil producer and U.S. ally, has imposed a news blackout on a sensitive investigation into the tape, saying earlier this month that media coverage about it was damaging to the country. A parliament session discussing the tape last week was held behind closed doors.

"I do not think we talked about the tape more than any other newspaper," Al Watan editor-in-chief Sheikh Khalifa Ali al-Khalifa al-Sabah told Reuters.

"This is a great legal error," he said, citing a notice from the Information Ministry about the verdict against newspapers Al Watan and Alam Alyawm.

Sheikh Khalifa, a member of Kuwait's Al Sabah ruling family, said the newspaper would contest the decision and continue to update its website. It would not publish its print edition from Monday, he added.

Alam Alyawm editor Abdulhameed al-Da'as said his newspaper had also received a notice about the verdict on Sunday and would cease publication for two weeks.

Alam Alyawm is a separate publication to Al Watan and is close to Kuwait's political opposition. Its front page on Sunday said there was an "uprising against the closure of the newspaper," and featured comments from politicians and media figures against the expected suspension.

Kuwait's courts do not comment to the media about cases.

Reports about the tape have featured extensively in local newspapers and online since the start of the year, prompting a rare statement from the ruling emir's office this month, which told people to stop discussing the topic.

The public prosecutor opened a case into the tape in December after a legal complaint by a former parliament speaker who asked for an investigation into tweets about the recording.

Kuwait is home to about a dozen daily newspapers and has a freer media environment than other Gulf Arab states, but issues related to the ruling system - a hereditary dynasty - are especially sensitive.

The 84-year-old emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, came to power in 2006 after his ailing predecessor stepped down. Sheikh Sabah's brother, Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, is next in line to become emir. (Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy and Sylvia Westall; editing by Jon Boyle)