Freedom of speech in Kuwait is protected according to Articles 36 and 37 in the country’s constitution. However, that freedom is limited according to what is “specified by the law.”
Criticizing the Emir of Kuwait is illegal and could lead to more than five years in prison, physical abuse, extreme interrogation or badeportation. It is also illegal to publish work that insults Islam, the prophets or God. Publishing work that discusses them negatively could lead to more than a $50,000 fine and a year (or more) in prison. Meanwhile, upsetting a reputable figure with powerful contacts may not be illegal, but can still get you detained or even deported. Reporters and media channels face physical harassment and threats from government officials, specifically the undercover agents from the secret intelligence service, known as Mabaheth in Kuwait.
The Ministry of Information censors international media for morally offensive content, while Kuwait’s 2016 electronic media law imposed additional regulations on online media outlets and online news blogs — which must obtain a license — as well as social media and others. However, Kuwaiti reporters generally enjoy more social and political freedom to criticize the country’s politics than expat reporters do.
Finding Stories, Accessing Information
Many organizations will be able to link you with migrant community leaders who help trafficked and other distressed workers. Kuwait’s migrant community leaders and social workers are particularly active, and can help you enter labor camps or access shelters. Meanwhile, lawyers who offer legal services to migrant workers, such as email@example.com or Humanitarian Foundation for Legal Aid, can help you understand the legal environment and connect you with stories or to workers.
The following organizations work on migration issues, including:
When contacting a government ministry or agency, go in person — preferably in a group — and preferably with Kuwaitis to avoid suspicion or distrust. Sharing the fact that you’re a journalist might raise skepticism, especially if you are asking for sensitive information. You might get more cooperation if you say you’re a student working on a project or university research. Keep in mind that the information you are going to receive is most probably going to be oral as government departments do not document all information on paper or online.
Examples of places to visit:
- The Domestic Workers’ Department in Al Dajeej. Though you might not receive much cooperation from department employees, there’s often a long line of domestic workers waiting for their iqamas to be signed off.
- Domestic workers shelter. The government runs houses for domestic workers (and their children) who have escaped from their employers, usually for reasons of abuse or nonpayment. If you aren’t able to make an appointment with the management, request the help of one of the organizations mentioned above.
- Political figures or activists are quite accessible on social media. Members of Parliament are active users of various platforms. For example, here’s the Instagram account Majlesalommah for the National Assembly of Kuwait.
- Embassies of origin countries tend to be more cooperative with releasing information, and they’re an essential source for stories and information on laws relating to migrant workers.
Making an Impact
With certain members of Parliament encouraging divisiveness between expats and Kuwaitis, it’s more important than ever to contribute to pluralistic discussions. Giving migrant workers a voice, fact-checking MP statements and conducting quality investigations on the slew of migrant worker issues in Kuwait is essential. Remember that articles alone may not be the best way to reach a large audience. Consider:
- Shooting video — blurring the interviewee’s face for privacy and safety — lets the public hear migrants speak.
- Follow up the story. Share how the migrant’s life has been affected, talk to their family members or their previous sponsor. Let the people know the full story.
- Produce multimedia pieces, and content for social media platforms.
- Share your investigations at workshops, lectures and on TV.
- Ask prominent Kuwaiti social media figures to share your important work to reach a wide audience. Most are willing to lend their voice.
General Reporting Tips
- When writing about migrant issues, remember that migrants deserve a place at the center of the story.
- Make sure to clearly explain the purpose of your discussion and obtain their consent for sharing their story.
- If you’re hoping to write about domestic worker issues, you will not likely succeed in approaching a domestic worker with her employer. Instead, consider where those that have time off may go alone, such as church.
- Not all migrants will be comfortable speaking publicly to a Kuwaiti, or someone who appears so.