Defamation / Reputation, Political Expression
Usón Ramírez v. Venezuela
Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of
On Appeal Contracts Expression
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The defendant in this case, Huda Al-Ajmi, is a 37 year-old teacher. Ms. Al-Ajami’s sole crime is posting on Twitter, criticizing the head of state. She was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment as a result after one court hearing on June 10, 2013.
Huda Al-Ajmi’s tweets greatly upset the Kuwaiti authorities. The authorities charged her with several serious crimes resulting from a single tweet. The charges eventually resulted in three criminal convictions totaling 11 years imprisonment. Al-Ajmi is the first activist to be prosecuted for tweets in Kuwait and she intends to appeal.
Al-Ajmi was charged with multiple offences and was convicted of three of those, despite denying any wrongdoing. The charges were as follows:
Al-Ajmi denied all wrongdoing. However, the Court disagreed as it handed down a 11-year imprisonment sentence. Additionally, the court decided to shut down the allegedly offensive Twitter account. Al-Ajmi’s legal representatives responded by preparing an appeal, which is still pending.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
The case contracts expression for several reasons. First, the defendant, Ms. Al-Ajmi, is the first woman known to have been convicted of insulting the ruler. She is also the first activist to ever have been convicted for Tweeting in Kuwait. Second, Kuwait has enjoyed relative freedom of expression prior to the Arab Spring. This trend is in reverse as it is evident by the subsequent prosecutions of many Kuwaiti Twitter users in the last few years. This case is one of many examples of such repression. Third, this case is an example of Kuwaiti courts’ increasingly harsh practices in sentencing Twitter users to over 10 years in prison for nothing more than a Twitter post. Fourth, one of Al-Ajmi’s charges was “misuse of a cell phone.” This charge raises particular concerns. Since Kuwait started prosecuting activists in October 2012, no activist has been charged with misusing a cell phone. Finally, the Kuwaiti government could use the same vague language of “misusing a telecommunication device” to expand prosecutions of activists based solely on their use of electronic equipment.
Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.
Article 111: imposes a 5-year sentence for any public criticism or mockery of religion.
Article 1 proscribes the misuse of telecommunication devices. The same provision cites “using devices to insult others” as an example of misuse. The penalty for such violation under this law is up to two years in prison in addition to civil fines.
Article 25: Imposes a 5-year sentence for insulting the Emir, Kuwait’s Head of State.
Article 29: imposes a 10-year maximum sentence for publicly advocating the overthrow of the government.
Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.
The decision is from a lower court and is subject to appeal. However, the decision arguably expands the Kuwaiti government’s abilities to prosecute activists. This is the first decision where an activist is imprisoned for 11 years just for tweeting.
Let us know if you notice errors or if the case analysis needs revision.