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KUWAIT: Telecom privatization accompanied by crackdown on civil liberties

November 20, 2010 |  8:41 am

In the Persian Gulf, at least, capitalism does not equal freedom. _47802396_kuwait_city_g

In Kuwait, the government has announced plans to privatize phone and mail services while at the same time increasing censorship. It has begun shutting down all pornographic websites, and on Saturday, three ministries issued a joint ban on photography cameras with large lenses in public places, according to a Kuwaiti media report.

Kuwait's communications minister, Al Busairdi, announced plans to privatize landlines and postal services within the next two years, the UAE-based daily Gulf News reported.

A wider crackdown on illicit Web content seems to be part of the package as well. It will partly be conducted with the help of the provider of Blackberry services, Research in Motion, Al Busairdi said.

"The three telecom operators in Kuwait have also decided to install filters to block pornographic sites," he was quoted as saying by Gulf News. "Kuwait has also reached an agreement with Research in Motion (RIM) to provide information about any phone number, in accordance with the law."

According to a study conducted last year by the Harvard University-sponsored OpenNet Initiative, Kuwait is one of the quickest-growing telecom markets in the region. But it witnessed a setback in 2007 when one of Kuwait's largest telecom operators moved its headquarters to Bahrain because of Kuwait's lack of an independent telecommunications sector, the report said.

The study also said that Kuwait practices selective filtering of Internet content, blocking sites deemed immoral and politically sensitive or considered to foment terrorism. The Kuwaiti censorship apparatus also targets gay and lesbian websites and those that present critical reviews of Islam or religion.

Photographers in Kuwait have also begun to feel the sting from the new ban on the use in public of professional cameras with big lenses, enacted by the ministries of information, social affairs, and finance.

They recently concluded that such photography should be restricted to usage for "journalism purposes only" in public places, including on the streets and in shopping malls, according to the daily Kuwait Times.

Mohamed Eisa, an amateur photographer in Kuwait, told the Kuwait Times that he began to face problems the day he bought his professional camera. Since then, he only takes pictures of animals or still life since "these subjects don't mind having their picture taken and don't make a scene."

Still, the ban appears confusing to some who don't understand why the authorities would ban only professional cameras and not smaller digital or mobile phone cameras which basically have the same capabilities as the professional ones.  

-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: A view from above the Kuwaiti capital, Kuwait City. Credit: Getty Images

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