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Kuwait Defends Rights Record in Response to Amnesty Report

FILE - Kuwaiti citizens gather at al-Irada Square, Kuwait City, to protest against government corruption and demand transparency in government, June 10, 2014.

Kuwait on Thursday dismissed criticism by Amnesty International that human rights have been eroding in the country since the Arab Spring protests erupted across the region four years ago. It said it remained an open society based on the rule of law.

In a report published Wednesday, Amnesty accused the Gulf Arab state of using a "web of vague and overly broad defamation laws" to crack down on freedom of expression, of shutting media outlets and stripping some critics of their citizenship.

The rights group also said there had been an increase in prosecutions over comments deemed "offensive" to the emir.

"Kuwait enjoys an open and democratic society where over two dozen independent newspapers and television channels host lively debates on Kuwaiti politics on a daily basis," Information Ministry Undersecretary Tareq Al-Mezrem said in a statement. "No crime is charged, or penalty imposed, except through the virtues of the law. ... The ministry confirms adherence to the principle of freedom of expression that is guaranteed by the Kuwaiti constitution and Kuwaiti law."

Mezrem said Kuwait was preparing a new media law that would "adhere to the constitution," without giving further details.

Kuwait, a Western-allied oil exporter, avoided large-scale protests during the Arab Spring when some rulers in the region were overthrown, but citizens held large street protests in 2012 over changes to the electoral law.

While Kuwait allows more freedom of speech than some other Gulf Arab states, the emir has the last say in state affairs, and the country has been cracking down on people suspected of trying to "undermine stability." The government has said it will strike with an "iron fist" against dissent.

Earlier this year, a court sentenced a human rights activist to three years in jail on charges of insulting the ruler.

Musallam al-Barrak, a former member of parliament, this year began serving a two-year term for a 2012 speech criticizing an election law that he and other opposition politicians said was intended to prevent them from getting power.