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The Case of Huda Al-Ajmi

On Appeal Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Electronic / Internet-based Communication
  • Date of Decision
    June 10, 2013
  • Outcome
    Imprisonment, Criminal Sanctions
  • Case Number
    N/A
  • Region & Country
    Kuwait, Middle East and North Africa
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law
  • Themes
    Defamation / Reputation, Political Expression
  • Tags
    Imprisonment, On-line Expression, Social Media

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

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.


Facts

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.


Decision Overview

Al-Ajmi was charged with multiple offences and was convicted of three of those, despite denying any wrongdoing.  The charges were as follows:

  1. Advocacy of overthrowing the government by means of civil disobedience and inciting protests.
  1. Publicly insulting the head of the state, the Emir of Kuwait. The prosecutor charged Al-Ajmi with violations of Articles 25 and 29 of the amended Penal Law (Law No. 31 of 1970). The law imposes a five-year maximum sentence on whoever “criticized the Emir in a public place.” The Court also imposed another five-year sentence for “inciting public rebellion and unrest.”  The Court’s reasoning was unique in making the case that Twitter is a “public place” under Kuwaiti law.
  1. Insulting the Shia religious minority.
  1. Using a cell phone, media, internet, and telecommunications to achieve her unlawful objectives. The government argues this is a violation of Kuwait’s Telecommunication Law (Article 1 of Law No. 9 of 2001).

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

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

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

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Kuwait, Penal Law (Law No. 16 of 1960)

    Article 111: imposes a 5-year sentence for any public criticism or mockery of religion.

  • Kuwait, Telecommunication Law (Law No. 9 of 2001)

    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.

  • Kuwait, Amended Penal Law, Law No. 31 of 1970

    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

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

Decision (including concurring or dissenting opinions) establishes influential or persuasive precedent outside its jurisdiction.

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.

Official Case Documents

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