May 20, 2012 / 2:00 PM / in 7 years

Kuwait daily cautious after sectarian ban lifted

* Paper was banned for backing Shi’ites in Sunni-led states

* Will limit coverage after 3-month suspension ends

* Kuwait wary of protests in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia

KUWAIT, May 20 (Reuters) - A Kuwaiti newspaper that was temporarily banned for inciting sectarian strife was back in print on Sunday, saying it would limit its coverage of protests by Shi’ite Muslims in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

Privately owned Al-Dar newspaper was suspended for three months in March after a court objected to articles supporting Shi’ite Muslim communities and activists in the Sunni Muslim-led states of Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, its editor said.

Although Kuwait has largely been spared the sectarian violence and pro-democracy uprisings seen elsewhere in the region, it is concerned tensions could still erupt among its own sizable Shi’ite minority.

Kuwaiti authorities have been closely watching Shi’ite-led protests in Bahrain and unrest in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, home to more than two million minority Shi’ites.

“We will be careful, especially on topics about Saudi Arabians and Bahrainis,” Al-Dar editor Hussein al-Sultan told Reuters.

“We will publish any articles about human rights in Bahrain if Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch publishes something. But we are not going further than this.”

A spokesman for Bahrain’s interior ministry referred inquiries to officials at the information ministry, who were not immediately available for comment. The information ministry oversees regulation of local media coverage.

Shi’ites make up about one third of Kuwait’s 1.1 million nationals and vocal members can be found in senior positions in parliament, media and business.

Although Kuwaitis enjoy greater freedom of expression than citizens elsewhere in the region and have access to a comparatively outspoken press, the state can censor publications it deems a threat to national security.

In March a court told Sultan he had to pay a 1,000 Kuwaiti dinar ($3,600) fine or face six months in prison over the sectarianism charges. This was extended to a one-year suspended prison sentence by a higher court on May 14, he said.

“If I have any other charges in the meantime, they will apply the jail sentence,” he said, adding that the paper had asked Kuwait’s highest court to scrap the jail penalty.

Lawmakers and analysts in major oil producer Kuwait have warned of a rise in sectarian tensions in the country, citing a series of cases involving Twitter.

A Kuwaiti Shi’ite charged with defaming the Prophet Mohammad on Twitter as well as insulting the rulers of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia will stand trial on Monday, according to his lawyer. (Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Andrew Heavens)

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