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Press group urges Kuwaiti ruler to free blogger

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A global press freedom watchdog called on the Emir of Kuwait Saturday to intervene for the release of a blogger who is on trial, accused of insulting the ruler and inciting against the government.

Mohammad Abdul-Kader al-Jassem, who has been detained since May 11, denies the accusations and says his trial is politically motivated.

“We call on you to ensure that this egregious violation of press freedom is rectified in al-Jassem’s June 21 court hearing and that he is released immediately,” the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a letter to the emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

Blogger and journalist Jassem faces up to 18 years in prison if convicted, according to his lawyers. He was detained after a complaint against him was issued by the office of the ruler.

He is also accused of spreading false news that could harm Kuwait’s national interests.

CPJ told the emir it had “observed with alarm the politicized nature” of the writer’s treatment, and how local news coverage of the case was banned.

It said Jassem’s detention and trial violated the Gulf Arab country’s constitution, which guarantees a free press. The charges against him are based on 32 of his articles, some of which date back to 2005, while the country’s press law states that legal recourse must be initiated within 90 days of the date of publication, the letter said.

On his website, Jassem criticized the ruling al-Sabah family and accused Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah of mismanagement and corruption.

The emir is protected from criticism by the constitution.

“We urge you to acknowledge that critical writing such as al-Jassem’s has an established place in Kuwaiti society and should not be criminalized,” CPJ told the emir.

Kuwait has been a major ally of Washington in the Gulf since the U.S.-led 1991 Gulf War that liberated it from a seven-month Iraqi occupation under Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

Earlier this month, its foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammad al-Salem al-Sabah, rejected comments from the U.S. State Department that it was concerned about Jassem’s case, and said they amounted to interfering in Kuwait’s internal affairs.

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