Policy & Law
Much has been said about social media's role in the Arab Spring and other protests around the world. But in many places, 140 characters of dissent is still all it takes to land you in prison.
Rashid Saleh al-Anzi, an online activist in Kuwait with 5,700 Twitter followers, was sentenced to two years on Sunday for writing a tweet in October that a Kuwaiti court claims "stabbed the rights and powers" of the country's emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah. The comments came in close proximity to demonstrations in October against changes to Kuwait's election rules which led to a significantly decreased voter turnout. Anzi is expected to appeal, but is being forced to begin serving his sentence before any further proceedings can take place.
Another man was sentenced to ten years for insulting the Sunni Muslim leaders of Kuwait and Bahrain
The ruling is a continuation of Kuwait's crackdown on political dissent spread through social media following popular uprisings in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. In June of last year, another man was sentenced to ten years in prison after being deemed a national security risk for insulting the prophet Muhammed and the Sunni Muslim leaders of Kuwait and Bahrain. A man was similarly sentenced in Iran after his son, studying abroad in the Netherlands, posted satirical images of one of the country's "infallible" imams to a Facebook group.
Sadly, harsh punishments for online free speech is not a trend limited to Muslim dictatorships: in Brazil, a judge ordered the arrest of local Google President Fabio Jose Silva Coelho when he refused to remove negative political ads against a local mayorial candidate. UK courts have also seen a number of controversial cases involving the posting of vaguely-defined "inflammatory" messages, and recently issued guidelines allowing for lighter sentences if content is removed swiftly and remorse is shown by the accused. But no matter where they take place, the cases illustrate how social media continues to help repressive governments crack down on dissent as much as it undermines their authority.