Restrictions on Speech, Assembly in Gulf Draw Condemnation
International watchdog groups and governments criticized a string of new laws that restrict speech, media independence and free assembly in several Gulf states in recent days. In Qatar, a new media law would criminalize articles that “abuse the regime or offend the ruling family or cause serious harm to the national or higher interests of the state,” according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The law also prohibits publishing information that could “throw relations between the state and the Arab and friendly states into confusion.” Joe Stork of HRW called the draft media law “a commitment to censorship” and urged the Emir not to sign it.
In response to ongoing attacks against civil society in the United Arab Emirates, the European Parliament adopted a resolution that criticizes the U.A.E. government and calls for investigations into the alleged abuses. The resolution “expresses great concern about assaults, repression and intimidation against human rights defenders, political activists and civil society actors…who peacefully exercise their basic rights to freedom of expression, opinion, and assembly.” A U.A.E. representative said that the resolution could “needlessly damage EU-UAE relations,” according to HRW.
In Kuwait, the opposition continued to organize against the new restrictions on demonstrations and the upcoming Parliamentary elections, scheduled for December 1. The liberal National Democratic Alliance announced its decision to boycott the elections to protest the new election law, while youth groups discussed strategies to expand the boycott and delegitimize the National Assembly, according to Al-Monitor‘s translation of an article in Al-Khaleej. In a report on the situation, Gulf analyst Fahed Al-Sumait said that the future of the Kuwait conflict is murky, but ”tensions between the government and opposition will continue to escalate until something eventually gives.”
HRW denounced the latest round of arrests in Saudi Arabia, which targeted peaceful protesters “seeking the release of family members, some of whom have been held for years without charge” in Turfiya prison. “The sentences handed to these men are part of a wider effort to target and harass activists across the country,” Stork said. “The Saudi government should stop using the judicial system to punish peaceful dissidents, and recognize that peaceful assembly is not a crime.” During the recent Hajj festivities, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia rejected “slogans spread among Muslims nowadays calling for a civil, democratic state that is not bound by Sharia,” according to A.F.P. and the Riyadh Bureau blog.