WASHINGTON — The United States said Friday it is has been in touch with the Kuwaiti government about the case of a Kuwaiti writer serving a one-year jail term for allegedly slandering the prime minister.

Kuwait’s appeals court on Wednesday refused a request to release writer Mohammad Abdulqader al-Jassem and set December 15 to issue its verdict in his appeal against the jail term handed down November 22, Jassem’s lawyer said.

“We are following his case very closely. We continue to be concerned,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.

“We understand that Mohammad al-Jassem is appealing the court’s decision. We are in touch with the Kuwaiti government,” he added, referring reporters to the Kuwaiti government for details of his case.

“Our view is the ability of citizens and journalists of any country to freely and vigorously discuss, debate and critique the actions of government does not threaten national interest,” he said.

In fact, he added, “it strengthens civil society and makes governments better and more accountable.”

Jassem’s lawyer Abdullah al-Ahmad told AFP earlier this week that the defense team demanded Jassem’s immediate release pending the appeals court verdict, insisting that the lower court ruling breached Kuwaiti laws.

During the trial, a public prosecutor called on the court to increase the jail term against Jassem, who is also a journalist and lawyer, for an article he wrote deemed highly critical of the prime minister.

The article, posted on Jassem’s website a year ago, charges that Iranian intelligence was interfering in Kuwait’s affairs through a leading businessman close to Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

International human rights organizations have condemned the jail term and called for his immediate release and withdrawal of charges.

Jassem, 54, is also facing several other cases, mostly filed by the prime minister alleging slander.

In May, he was arrested and detained for 49 days on state security charges that he had undermined the status of the emir and harmed national interests. He was also detained for 12 days in November 2009.

Members of his family and supporters have been organizing a daily sit-in outside the prime minister’s residence to protest the jailing of Jassem, who is a heart patient.

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