Kuwait’s Parliament Wednesday backed legislation stipulating 10-year jail terms and fines of up to $165,000 for online crimes, especially those related to terrorism, despite warnings that this could undermine freedoms.
Twenty-eight members, including cabinet ministers, supported the law in a first vote, while eight were against and two abstained.
A second and final vote is due after two weeks. Justice Minister Yacoub Al-Sane said the law is needed to fill a legal vacuum and regulate the use of online services such as Twitter. He said similar laws apply in many European countries.
But several MPs warned the law is aimed at curbing freedoms of expression and speech, and will send many Kuwaitis to jail. It stipulates a 10-year jail term for creating a website for a “terrorist” group or publishing news about the group on the Internet that aims to raise funds.
The same penalty applies to money laundering and publishing how to manufacture explosives or other tools that can be used in attacks.
Several MPs attacked the law. “If this law is passed, I think most Kuwaitis will end up in jail,” independent MPJamal Al-Omar said. “The law includes very dangerous penalties. Some people have been sent to jail for five years for just one or two tweets,” he said. Shiite MP Saleh Ashour called the law “extremely dangerous”. “Is it logical to send a young man to prison for 10 years for just expressing a political opinion or speaking against a sacred figure?” Ashour asked. “Where in Europe are people jailed for 10 years for speaking against the head of state or prime minister?” “Under this law, people won’t be able to talk otherwise they go to jail,” Ashour said.
MP Jamal Al-Omar voiced objection to the bill as it could put all Kuwaitis in jail due to the rigid stipulations. He explained that if the current situation is taken into consideration, a Twitter user might be sentenced to five years in prison just because of one or two tweets. “I don’t think all European countries have this law. I challenge the justice minister to show us a similar law currently applied in European countries. We seem to be pushing for the application of such a law for us to imprison ourselves and the government put poisonous honey through certain articles of the bill. The proposal does not match the nature of crimes; hence, Kuwait might become an international tribunal for prosecuting and punishing anyone who insults others,” he added.
According to the explanatory note, the bill was drafted because the traditional criminal texts are not applicable to cyber-crimes.
This bill is necessary to protect people’s freedom and reputation, as well as to stop the misappropriation of public and private funds and encroachment on properties, in line with the commitment of Kuwait to support international directives on combating cybercrimes.
The extensive use of international information networks and computer systems poses a number of risks, including the proliferation of electronic crimes like hacking.
Article Two of the bill states it is a crime to illegally access a computer or information system by using any information technology method.
It stipulates stiffer punishment if the illegal access results in the cancellation or destruction of data or personal information. It also imposes severe punishment if the act is carried out while performing one’s job.
Article Three stipulates severe punishment in case the hacked data belong to the government or related to the accounts of customers in banking facilities. It criminalizes fraud or destruction of electronic documents — traditional, governmental or banking, including those concerning medical examinations; as well as the use of any information technology method to threaten or blackmail people. Severe punishment is imposed if the threat leads one to commit felony or undermine other people’s dignity.
Article Four imposes punishment on anyone who deliberately hinders access to websites, anyone who listens to what is transmitted through the network and anyone who creates a website or social networking site with immoral content.
Article Five stipulates penalties on anyone who accesses, through any information technology method, other people’s credit card data to steal money.
Articles Six and Seven imposes punishment on anyone who violates the Press and Publication Law through any electronic method.
Article Eight stipulates imprisonment for a period not exceeding seven years and fine of not more than KD 30,000 and not less than KD 10,000 or one of these punishments on anybody who creates a website or circulates information to engage in human trafficking, promote drugs or narcotic substances, and facilitate procedures for such illegal deals.
Article 10 stipulates imprisonment for a period not exceeding 10 years and fine of not more than KD 50,000 and not less than KD 20,000 on anyone who creates a website for a terrorist organization or individual or publishes any information about them on the Internet or any information technology system even if it is done using a pseudonym.
These penalties are also applicable to anyone who facilitates communication with the leaders or members of terrorist groups, promotes the groups’ ideologies, financially supports them and publishes information on the manufacturing of explosives, incendiary devices or tools used in terrorist acts.
Articles 11-19 include general provisions, such as those exempted from punishment, confiscation or shutting down a shop or website, penal responsibility of the legal person, power of the public prosecutor to investigate and take the necessary action, among others. Furthermore, the Parliament approved the final accounts of the Environment Public Authority (EPA) for fiscal 2013/2014.
However, it rejected the final accounts for fiscal 2013/2014 of six government authorities — Public Authority for Agriculture Affairs and Fish Resources (PAAAFR), Kuwait University (KU), Public Authority for Civil Information (PACI), Kuwait Fire Service Directorate (KFSD), Kuwait Municipality and Public Authority for Industry (PAI). The Parliament then moved to discuss the attached budgets for fiscal 2015/2016 of eight government institutions — PAAAFR, KU, PACI, KFSD, Kuwait Municipality, PAI, EPA and Public Authority for Encouragement of Direct Investment.
After the discussion, acting Speaker of the Parliament MP Ahmed Lari adjourned the session until June 16 to finalize discussions on the reports of the Budgets and Final Accounts Committee on the attached budgets.