04/16/2013, 00.00
MIDDLE EAST - ISLAM
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Islamist governments target Twitter and social media

In Kuwait the main opposition leader will have to serve a sentence of five years in prison for insulting the Emir and the government. 10 thousand protest in Kuwait City. A Turkish court sentences a pianist to 10 months for writing sentences against the Islamist government on Twitter.

Kuwait City (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Twitter and social media are the latest targets for Muslim governments that escaped unscathed from the Arab Spring of 2011. In recent months, Bahrain, UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have held dozens of trials and jailed activists, politicians and celebrities guilty of expressing opinions and comments against Islam or critical of political leaders, emirs or monarchs on social networks. The two most recent cases concern Kuwait and Turkey.

Yesterday a court in Kuwait City sentenced an opposition leader Musallam al-Barrak to five years in prison for alleged insults against the Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah published on Twitter. That evening, more than 10 thousand people took to the streets in protest against the government (see photo). The verdict against al-Barrak follows a series of convictions of activists and politicians guilty of having retweeted the views of the leaders on social networks. Among these is Orance al-Rasheedi, a pro-democracy activist, who was sentenced in February to 10 years in prison for criticism of the emir and for inciting the overthrow of the monarchy that for centuries has led the country.

Yesterday the Turkish court upheld the sentence of 10 months imprisonment for Fazil Say, a world famous pianist because of a tweet against the ruling party and its Islamist drift which earned him a conviction for blasphemy and offending Islam. The musician, 43, an atheist, has performed with the best orchestras in the world and was not present in the courtroom during the reading of the sentence. The trial which began in April 2012  has sparked a strong reaction from Turkish journalists and artists who denounce the clamp down on press freedom and freedom of thought by the government in Ankara. Say has repeatedly criticized the Justice and Development Party led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accusing him of having a secret agenda to turn Turkey into an Islamic state.

After the fall of the authoritarian governments of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen and the outbreak of civil war in Syria, the Gulf States and Turkey have launched a campaign of arrests and charges against bloggers and activists, often for simple sentences written on social media. In November, a Qatari courts sentence against poet Muhammad Rashid al-Ajami, to life imprisonment for publishing verses praising the Arab Spring considered offensive against the Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube. In February, the sentence was reduced to 15 years in prison, but only after pressure from various associations for the freedom of the press and human rights. Most of these nations guilty of this suppressing freedom of expression support the Syrian opposition to Bashar al-Assad with weapons and money. At the Arab League meeting on 26 March, which gave the green light to the armed support of the rebel militias, the same Motaz Ahmad el-Khatib, president of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), called on "members of the League to respect human rights in their own countries first".

 

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