KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait's cabinet has approved a new media bill stipulating a 10-year jail term for religious offences and a fine of more than $1 million for criticising the emir, local media reported on Thursday.
The government of the oil-rich Gulf state, under pressure from Islamist, nationalist and liberal opposition groups, has not released the "combined media law" but local newspapers published leaked details.
To become effective, the new law must be passed by the pro-government parliament and signed by Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah.
The draft bill proposes a jail term of up to 10 years for insulting God, the Muslim Prophet Mohammed, his companions and wives, and other prophets. The same penalty applies to those instigating the overthrow of the regime.
It also stipulates a fine of between 50,000 dinars ($175,000) and 300,000 dinars ($1.05 million) for criticising the emir or the crown prince.
Under the existing law, critics of the emir are tried under the penal code and face a jail term of up to five years. Kuwait has jailed several opposition tweeters and former MPs on such charges and many others are on trial.
Besides conventional media such as newspapers and television, the draft bill extends government control to all social networks including Twitter, blogs and electronic publications, which require a licence from the information ministry.
Licence violators are liable to pay a fine of up to 200,000 dinars ($700,000). At present, the fine is $3,500.
The maximum fine for any violation in the existing media law is $70,000.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders strongly lashed out at the draft law describing it a "draconian" and urged parliament to reject it.
"We are outraged by the government’s desire to use this draconian law to control information and restrict freedom of expression," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.
"We point out that freedom of information is a fundamental freedom enshrined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Kuwait ratified this declaration and must respect its national and international obligations," it said.
"If adopted by the national assembly, this law would pose a terrible threat to media freedom and would certainly not ‘bolster’ the media, as the information minister cynically claimed," the group said.