Though the media in Kuwait is among the most outspoken in the Gulf states, journalists self-censor on issues related to the royal family. The primary target of Internet filtering is pornography and, to a lesser extent, gay and lesbian content. Secular content and Web sites that are critical of Islam are also censored. Some Web sites that are related to religions other than Islam are blocked even though they are not necessarily critical of Islam.
Results At A Glance
|FILTERING||No evidence of filtering||Suspected filtering||Selective filtering||Substantial filtering||Pervasive filtering|
|OTHER FACTORS||Not Applicable||Low||Medium||High|
|Life expectancy at birth (years)||78|
|Human Development Index (out of 182 countries)||31|
|Rule of Law (scale of 0-5)||3.1|
|Voice and Accountability (scale of 0-5)||2|
|EIU Democracy Index (out of 167 countries)||129|
|Digital Opportunity Index (out of 181 countries)||60|
|Internet users (% of population)||36.9|
Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy with a National Assembly (Parliament) of 50 members elected by popular vote. Despite a ban on political parties, formal political groups exist which support MPs and other political candidates.1
The media in Kuwait is the most outspoken in the Arab world and “often aggressive in their coverage of politics and the government,” but journalists exercise self-censorship when covering matters relating to the emir (President) and members of the royal family.2
In 2006 a new press law was instituted which granted the media more autonomy. Many previous press offenses have become legalized, the press market is open to new political daily newspapers (previously the number was limited), and “media outlets can also file a complaint with an administrative court if the authorities refuse to grant them an operating license.”3 However, the law has also become more stringent concerning religious or national matters. Journalists can now face prison time for making references to Islam that are deemed insulting4 or for articles seen as “against national interests.”5 New daily newspapers must have a great deal of capital in order to receive a license.6 The Ministry of Information also censors imported media “deemed morally offensive.”7
Internet in Kuwait
Kuwait is one of the “fastest-growing ICT markets in the region” and continues to grow.8 However, its attempts to strengthen its ICT sector witnessed a setback in September 2007, when leading mobile operator and a major regional carrier Zain announced it would be moving its international headquarters to Bahrain due to Kuwait’s lack of an independent telecoms regulator.9
Currently, partial competition between about thirteen Internet service providers exists despite a monopoly on international gateways.10 Kuwait has an Internet penetration rate of 31.6 percent (2008), and there are 22 computers per 100 people (2005).11
In June 2008, Kuwait launched an annual competition to encourage its youth to create local content on the Internet. The presidential initiative aims to narrow the digital divide between Kuwait and the developed world.12
According to one survey, “in Kuwait, 54 percent of internet users spend more than three hours a day online.”13 As the majority of the Kuwaiti population can afford to have Internet services at home,14 Kuwait has fewer Internet cafes than other Middle Eastern countries.15
Legal and regulatory framework
The Constitution says that everyone has the right to “express and propagate” their opinion as long as it is “in accordance with the conditions and procedures specified by law.”16 Article 37 and Article 39 guarantee the freedom of press and communication under these similar “circumstances and manners specified by law.”17 Article 49 of the constitution affirms that “respect for Public morals are a duty incumbent upon all inhabitants of Kuwait.”18
Journalists in Kuwait have no easy access to official information and are under pressure from the judiciary. Though press offences are no longer punishable by prison sentences, the threat of huge fines still looms over many media workers.19
The Ministry of Communication regulates ISPs in Kuwait, forcing them to block pornography, anti-religion, anti-tradition, and anti-security websites to “protect the public by maintaining both public order and morality.”20
Both private ISPs and the government take actions to filter the Internet. While private ISPs freely block Web sites “considered to be immoral and/or politically sensitive,”21 the Ministry of Communications censors sites considered to "incite terrorism and instability," shutting down Web sites critical of the government or seen to support terrorism.22
In early 1999, the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) was commissioned by the Ministry of Communications to undertake the responsibility of establishing, managing and operating the Kuwait Top Level Domain Name System.25 The KISR does not register domain names which are “injurious to public order or to public sensibilities or otherwise do not comply with the laws of Kuwait.”26
In August 2007, a Kuwaiti journalist was arrested for comments posted on his blog by an anonymous user who insulted the emir of Kuwait. The press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders implored authorities to drop planned charges because, “[h]is arrest and the decision to charge him are incomprehensible as his only crime is running a website.” The journalist was released on bail three days later, “once the authorities were in a position to identify the person who posted the anonymous comment” and because the comments were posted without the journalist’s consent.27
On September 22, 2008, Kuwaiti authorities called for the blocking of YouTube in response to several videos declared “offensive to Muslims.”28 Several Kuwaiti Members of Parliament called for stricter restrictions on online content following the incident.29
There are reports of current as well as future government Internet surveillance and monitoring efforts in Kuwait. For example, Internet café owners are required to maintain a record of customers’ names and IDs, which they must submit to the Ministry of Communications (MOC) upon request.30 In May 2002, fifty Internet cafés had their licenses temporarily revoked by the MOC for offering access to pornographic web sites,31 a matter that indicates that the government is monitoring Internet use in Internet cafés.
In July 2008, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry said that it “put under surveillance one of the commercials issued by a private company which lured youth to start talking with members of the opposite sex” on the Internet. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry also asked the Ministry of Communications to investigate Internet chat rooms which “promote immorality.”32 In the same month, a Member of the Parliament asked to hold the Minister of Communications liable for “unethical activities” on the Internet. He also called on the telecommunications companies to “screen the messages” and to hold the Minister of Communications liable for the transit of offensive messages.33
Kuwait’s Minister of Communications, who is also the Minister of Religious Endowment and Islamic Affairs, announced in February 2008 that the government plans to present a new law for monitoring and regulating Web sites and blogs,34 “with the aim of protecting public order, ensuring respect for decency and preserving the values of Kuwaiti society.”35 In July 2008, Kuwait’s prosecutor general announced that he had prepared a bill that will criminalize promoting vice and incitement against the country’s leadership, divulging state secrets, or insulting Islam on the Web. Offenders will face up to one year in prison (seven if victims are minors) and/or a fine.36 Kuwaiti bloggers said the proposed Internet law aims to silence critical bloggers and, as one of them said, “This law is a way to control what bloggers publish online; the government wants to know ‘who is this blogger?’”37
ONI testing results
ONI in-country testing was conducted using the ISPs Fasttelco and Zain.
The results show that Kuwait’s Internet filtering regime targets mostly Internet porn, including Arabic forums that facilitate the exchange of explicit Arabic content. LGBT was also censored (www.gayonthenet.net, www.freegaypornfinder.com, www.lesbiansubmission.com).
As in many other countries in the region, the Web site of the US based publication Arab Times (www.arabtimes.com), a publication that is often critical of Kuwait and other Arab leaders, was found to be blocked.
The Web site pc2call (http://www.pc2call.com), which provides VoIP services, was found to be blocked.
The censors in Kuwait publicly acknowledge targeting content deemed immoral and politically sensitive, and that which incites terrorism. The filtering system evidently blocks access to porn, gay and lesbian content, secular sites and those which present critical reviews of Islam. The use of VoIP is illegal, and the authorities have deported expats who are found to use it. There are cases of Internet surveillance efforts as well as calls from officials to monitor online activities. Laws that are more restrictive of online activities are being proposed by the government.
- 1. United Nations Development Programme, Kuwait, “Kuwait at a Glance,” http://www.undp-kuwait.org/kag/.
- 2. “Country profile: Kuwait,” BBC News, March 11, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/country_profiles/791053.stm.
- 3. Reporters without Borders, “Kuwait— Annual Report 2007,” http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=20767.
- 4. “Country profile: Kuwait,” BBC News, March 11, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/country_profiles/791053.stm.
- 5. Reporters without Borders, “Kuwait— Annual Report 2007,” http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=20767.
- 6. Media Sustainability Index, “Middle East and North Africa: Kuwait,” 2006, http://www.irex.org/programs/msi_mena/2005/MSI05_MENA_KW.pdf.
- 7. “Country profile: Kuwait,” BBC News, March 11, 2009, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/country_profiles/791053.stm.
- 8. MENA Financial Network, “Kuwaiti ICT industry leverages GITEX technology week to extend global reach,” July 24 2007, http://www.menafn.com/qn_news_story_s.asp?StoryId=1093160795.
- 9. Business Monitor International, “The Kuwait Telecommunications Report 2008,” http://www.businessmonitor.com/telecommunications/kuwait.html.
- 10. International Telecommunications Union, “ICT eye: Kuwait,” http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/icteye/DisplayCountry.aspx?countryId=130.
- 11. Ibid. See also International Telecommunications Union, “ITU Internet Indicators 2008,” http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/icteye/Reporting/ShowReportFrame.aspx?ReportNam....
- 12. Kuwait News Agency, “Kuwait Launches an Annual e-Award,” June 21, 2008, http://www.kuna.net.kw/NewsAgenciesPublicSite/ArticleDetails.aspx?id=191....
- 13. AME Info, “Internet increasingly driving consumer behavior says Bayt.com,” July 15, 2007, http://www.ameinfo.com/126572.html, accessed June 21, 2008.
- 14. Media Sustainability Index, “Middle East and North Africa: Kuwait,” 2006, http://www.irex.org/programs/msi_mena/2005/MSI05_MENA_KW.pdf.
- 15. Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies, lecture presented by Dr. Deborah L. Wheeler, “The Internet in the Arab World: Digital Divides and Cultural Connections,” June 16, 2004, http://www.riifs.org/guest/lecture_text/Internet_n_arabworld_all_txt.htm.
- 16. Article 36 of the Constitution of the State of Kuwait, Kuwait Information Office in India, http://www.kuwait-info.com/sidepages/state_constitution.asp.
- 17. Articles 37 and 39 of the Constitution of the State of Kuwait, Kuwait Information Office in India, http://www.kuwait-info.com/sidepages/state_constitution.asp.
- 18. Article 49 of the Constitution of the State of Kuwait, Kuwait Information Office in India, http://www.kuwait-info.com/sidepages/state_constitution.asp.
- 19. Reporters Without Borders, “The Gulf states - Annual report 2008,” http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=25430&Valider=OK.
- 20. “Kuwait: State of the media,” Menassat, http://www.menassat.com/?q=en/media-landscape/state-media-5.
- 21. Media Sustainability Index, “Middle East and North Africa: Kuwait,” 2006, http://www.irex.org/programs/msi_mena/2005/MSI05_MENA_KW.pdf.
- 22. U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Kuwait — 2007,” Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 11, 2008, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2007/100599.htm.
- 23. Professor Ibrahim Kadi, Communications and Information Technology Commission, “VOIP Policy and Regulation: Regional perspective,” presented at the regional seminar on Internet Protocol: VOIP Algiers, Algeria, March 19, 2007, http://www.ituarabic.org/2007/IP-VOIP/Docs/Doc5-Saudi%20Arabia.pdf.
- 24. “Ministry blocks call sites on web,” Kuwait Times Online, May 13, 2007, http://www.arabtimesonline.com/arabtimes/kuwait/Viewdet.asp?ID=9870&cat=a.
- 25. Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, http://www.kw.
- 26. Ibid.
- 27. Reporters Without Borders, “Website editor freed on bail after being held for three days over anonymous post,” August 22, 2007, http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=23347.
- 28. Jamie Etheridge, “Kuwait blocks YouTube,” Kuwait Times, September 22, 2008, http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=MTI1MjMyNzg4Mw==.
- 29. Dylan Bowman, “Kuwaiti MPs call for stricter net censorship,” Arabian Business, September 29, 2008, http://www.arabianbusiness.com/532671-kuwaiti-mps-call-for-stricter-net-....
- 30. U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Kuwait — 2007,” Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, March 11, 2008, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2007/100599.htm.
- 31. “Kuwait shuts porn internet cafes,” BBC News, May 14, 2002, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1986838.stm.
- 32. Fahed Al-Fhaiman, “Ministry of Communications asked to check out Internet ‘chat rooms’ promoting immorality,” Arab Times Online, http://www.arabtimesonline.com/kuwaitcrime/pagesdetails.asp?nid=20038&cc....
- 33. “MP holds Al-Ghunaim liable for unethical activities on Net,” Arab Times Online, http://www.arabtimesonline.com/kuwaitnews/pagesdetails.asp?nid=19736&ccid=9.
- 34. Ahmad Al-Khaled, “Kuwait to monitor websites, blogs,” Kuwait Times, February 06, 2008, http://www.kuwaittimes.net/read_news.php?newsid=Mjg5MDgwMzQx.
- 35. Reporters Without Borders, “Emir asked to clarify draft law for regulating Internet,” February 2, 2008, http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=25684.
- 36. “Kuwait preparing law to punish ‘Internet offenders’: Al-Othman,” Arab Times Online, http://www.arabtimesonline.com/client/pagesdetails.asp?nid=20303&ccid=9.
- 37. Media Channel, “Kuwait: Proposed Internet law aims to silence critical bloggers,” August 14, 2008, http://www.mediachannel.org/wordpress/2008/08/14/kuwait-proposed-interne....