* Twitter cases have brought protests, arrests
* Kuwait wants social media regulated like press, TV
* Minister, MP see parliament backing measures
By Sylvia Westall
KUWAIT, April 24 Kuwait plans to pass laws this
year to regulate the use of social networking sites such as
Twitter, the information minister said on Tuesday, in the wake
of cases of alleged blasphemy and sectarianism that have
Kuwaiti lawmakers also voted in favour of a legal amendment
earlier this month which could make insulting God and the
Prophet Mohammad punishable by death.
Twitter is extremely popular in the Gulf state of 3 million
and many public figures use the messaging site to debate
politics, share gossip and advertise events. Unlike print media,
television and books, the state does not have the ability to
censor electronic media and lacks specific laws for prosecution.
"The government is now in the process of establishing laws
that will allow government entities to regulate the use of the
different new media outlets such as Twitter in order to
safeguard the cohesiveness of the population and society,"
Information Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Mubarak Al-Sabah said.
While the Kuwaiti press enjoys greater freedom than media
outlets in some other Gulf states, it is under government
surveillance and there are certain "red lines" local journalists
know they must not cross, including direct criticism of Kuwait's
ruler, regional heads of state, religious figures and religions.
The government also clamps down on comments deemed to incite
Kuwait has so far used its criminal code to bring charges
against individuals for slander or libel.
A court sentenced a Sunni Muslim writer to seven years in
jail earlier this month and ordered that he pay nearly $18,000
in compensation after ruling that he had insulted Kuwait's
Shi'ite Muslim minority on Twitter.
Police arrested a Kuwaiti Shi'ite last month, charging him
with insulting the Prophet Mohammad on Twitter. He denied this,
saying his account had been hacked, according to his lawyer.
Both cases triggered small street protests.
Kuwaiti MPs from across the political spectrum have voiced
concern about sectarian tensions. The unease reflects a wider
regional trend, especially in Bahrain where the Sunni monarchy
has cracked down on protesters who are mainly Shi'ites.
Sheikh Mohammad said laws regulating social media needed to
be passed as soon as possible.
"I have been asking the parliamentarians to give this
priority," he said on the sidelines of a parliament session,
adding he hoped the measures would be implemented this year.
Islamist Member of Parliament Mohammad al-Dallal, who
specialises in legal matters related to the media, said he
thought the legislation could be passed as early as June given
strong support among fellow deputies.
"Twitter is an open area ... everyone can speak. But it is
not always being used as social media in Kuwait - not about
friendship or personal matters but it is being used politically,
to attack. This is a bad thing," he said.
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)