CPJ Deplores Sentencing of Two Journalists by Kuwait

Four-Line Joke Draws Six-Month Imprisonment

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New York, N.Y., June 25, 1998--The Committee to Protect Journalists today strongly protested Kuwait's sentencing of journalists Muhammad Jasim al-Saqr and Ibrahim Marzouk to six months in prison because of a joke published in Al-Qabas, a leading daily newspaper.

A Kuwaiti criminal court on Wednesday handed down the sentences to al-Saqr, editor in chief, and, Marzouk, a freelance journalist based in Egypt who wrote the four-line item that ran on the entertainment page in Al-Qabas on January 5. The item presented a teacher asking a student, "Why did God expel Adam and Eve from paradise?" and the student's reply, "Because they did not pay the rent."

Al-Saqr and Marzouk, who was sentenced in absentia, were charged with "insulting the essence of the Divine Being" in a legal suit initiated by the Ministry of Information. In addition to the six-months prison term, the court ordered a week-long closure of Al-Qabas.

In a strongly worded letter sent today to Crown Prince Sheikh Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah, Prime Minister of Kuwait, the New York-based independent press freedom organization urged him "to examine all possible legal options to rescind the convictions" and the suspension of Al-Qabas and ensure that the Kuwait judiciary abide by international standards for free expression.

"We view the criminal prosecution and conviction of Muhammad al-Saqr and Ibrahim Marzouk and the suspension of Al-Qabas as flagrant violations of the internationally recognized right of journalists to report news and opinion freely," wrote CPJ's executive director, William A. Orme, Jr. "CPJ deplores the criminal prosecution of journalists in response to their published work. Such measures run counter to universally accepted norms for press freedom and inhibit the ability of the press to work freely."

Muhammad al-Saqr, editor of Al-Qabas ("The Firebrand") since 1983, received CPJ's International Press Freedom Award in 1992 for courageous reporting on political and human rights issues in the face of government threats of censorship and prosecution