HRW slams Kuwaiti jail, deportation of online activist

KUWAIT CITY (AFP) — Human Rights Watch on Sunday condemned as “shocking” a Kuwaiti court’s five-year jail sentence followed by deportation against an online rights activist for criticizing the emirate’s ruler on Twitter.

A lower court imposed the sentence on Abdullah Fairouz Abdullah Abd al-Kareem, 30, on January 9 for posting comments on the microblogging website deemed offensive to the emir.

The court also ordered Kareem to be deported after serving the jail term although he has the right to Kuwaiti citizenship.

The court acknowledged that Kareem had won a final court ruling over his right but he has so far not obtained the citizenship card and thus the court treated him as a foreigner.

Under Kuwaiti law, foreign residents are deported by courts if they receive jail sentences for any serious crime.

Kareem’s mother is Egyptian and his father Kuwaiti. It is not clear what passport he carried when he won the right to Kuwaiti citizenship.

“The judgement against Kareem is shocking,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“We hope that the exile sentence is not a new strategy by the prosecution to chill political commentary in Kuwait,” he said.

Kareem is not a member of the Kuwaiti opposition but a prominent rights activist.

The New York-based HRW said that Kuwaiti authorities should drop the charges and not contest Kareem’s already lodged appeal.

“Since a political crisis in June 2012, Kuwaiti authorities have ramped up efforts to limit free expression, with courts sentencing at least 18 politicians, online activists, and journalists to prison terms for ‘offending’ the emir,” HRW said.

“Kuwait has made clear through the recent string of cases that it is willing to trample on people’s rights to protect the emir from criticism,” it said.

(Source / 26.01.2014)

Video: Kuwaitis boycott Iran goods, protest against Hezbollah

Kuwaiti protesters set ablaze a picture of Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah’s chief Hassan Nasrallah during a protest in front the Lebanese embassy against Hezbollah and Iran’s involvement in Syria, in Kuwait city on June 11,2013

Several Kuwaiti supermarket chains have begun boycotting products from Iran for its support of the Syrian regime, while activists staged a demonstration against the involvement of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement in the conflict.

At least nine cooperative consumer societies out of 50 in the oil-rich Gulf state published announcements in the local media on Wednesday saying they have taken Iranian products off their shelves in protest at Tehran’s backing of President Bashar al-Assad.

Cooperative societies control a majority of the retail consumer market in Kuwait.

One of the announcements said that the next step in the campaign would be to dismiss Iranian labourers working at the societies and cancel their residency permits.

Around 50,000 Iranians work in Kuwait, mostly in low-paid jobs. Iranian exports to Kuwait are not huge and mainly comprise fish and food products.

Meanwhile, dozens of Islamist activists demonstrated outside the Lebanese embassy late Tuesday in protest at the military intervention of Shiite Hezbollah fighters on the side of Syrian regime forces against rebels.

Protesters burned posters of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.

Sunni Muslims, who form more than 70 percent of the 1.2 million Kuwaitis, have been angered by the Syrian government onslaught on fellow Sunni rebels and the support Assad has received from Iran and Hezbollah.

Sunni clerics have launched fund-raising campaigns on the Internet and through mosques to aid the Syrian people as well as the rebellion.

Around a dozen well-known Kuwaiti Sunni clerics have launched an online campaign to raise funds enough to arm 12,000 fighters and send them to Syria. Each fighter is estimated to cost $2,500.

The Gulf Cooperation Council states said on Monday they will take measures against members of Hezbollah.

The measures will affect their “residency permits, and financial and commercial transactions,” said a GCC statement, citing a ministerial council decision.

The GCC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

(Source / 12.06.2013)

Kuwait urges citizens to leave Lebanon ‘as quickly as possible’

Lebanese security forces inspect the site where a rocket exploded in Shiah, a southern suburb of Beirut, on Sunday.

Kuwait urged its citizens on Sunday to avoid traveling to Lebanon and those who are there to “leave as quickly as possible,” following a speech by Hezbollah chief Hasan Nasrallah that pointed to an imminent escalation between Lebanese factions.

The country’s foreign ministry said in a statement published by the KUNA news agency that Kuwait is closely monitoring developments in the security situation in Lebanon with “grave concern and expressed hope the fellow Arab country overcome this period soon.”

On Saturday Hezbollah leader officially announced the group’s engagement in Syria, fighting alongside Bashar al-Assad’s forces. Nasrallah vowed “victory” and challenged rival Lebanese factions to fight his group in Syria.

“I say to all the honorable people, to the mujahedeen, to the heroes: I have always promised you a victory and now I pledge to you a new one” in Syria, he said at a ceremony marking the 13th anniversary of Israel’s military withdrawal from Lebanon.

Nasrallah said Hezbollah would always stand by its allies in the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, stressing that its own interests were at stake.

“We will continue along the road… bear the responsibilities and the sacrifices,” he said in a video link of a speech delivered live on a huge screen.

(Source / 25.05.2013)

Kuwait jails activist for five years over Twitter remarks


US-backed Kuwaiti royal family has launched a widespread crackdown on dissent in the country.

Kuwait’s lower court on Sunday sentenced an opposition youth activist to five years in jail “with immediate effect” for insulting the emir on Twitter, a rights group said.

“The court passed the maximum jail term against Mohammad Eid al-Ajmi for insulting the emir on Twitter,” the director of the Kuwait Society for Human Rights, Mohammad al-Humaidi, told AFP.

The ruling is not final as it will be appealed, but Ajmi will begin serving the sentence immediately, Humaidi said.

Ajmi is the third opposition youth activist to be convicted for insulting the emir on Twitter. Last month the same court sentenced two tweeters to two years each in jail each on the same charge.

Ayyad al-Harbi and Rashed al-Enezi are both in prison as they await appeals court rulings on their cases.

Humaidi said a large number of youth activists are on trial on similar charges, with verdicts expected in the coming weeks.

The US-backed monarchy has stepped up efforts in recent months to crack down on citizens who use the Internet to express opinions the government deems offensive.

In June 2012, a man was sentenced to 10 years in prison after he was convicted of endangering state security by insulting the Prophet Mohammad and the rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain on social media.

Two months later, authorities detained Sheikh Meshaal al-Malik Al-Sabah, a member of the ruling family, over remarks on Twitter in which he accused authorities of corruption and called for political reform.

The criminal court is also scheduled to issue its verdict on Tuesday against three former opposition MPs for criticizing the emir at a public rally on October 10.

Criticizing the emir is illegal in Kuwait and is considered a state security charge. Those convicted of the offence face up to five years in jail.

The opposition has been staging regular demonstrations in protest at an amendment of the electoral law and the subsequent holding of a parliamentary election on December 1 on the basis of the amended legislation.

The opposition held a public rally late Saturday to express solidarity with Twitter users and former MPs on trial for expressing their opinion.

The Sabah family has ruled Kuwait for over 250 years. The emir, crown prince, prime minister and key cabinet ministers all hail from the ruling family.

( / 03.02.2013)

Kuwait allows women prosecutors for first time

Breakthroughs in equality were achieved in 2009 for example, Women were allowed to enter Parliament for the first time after winning four of the 50 seats in parliamentary elections. Dhikra Al Rashidi , a member of parliament, is pictured above. (Reuters)

Breakthroughs in equality were achieved in 2009 for example, Women were allowed to enter Parliament for the first time after winning four of the 50 seats in parliamentary elections. Dhikra Al Rashidi , a member of parliament, is pictured above.

Kuwait’s justice ministry has, for the first time, accepted applications by women for the position of prosecutors in the country’s judicial system, reported Gulf News on Monday.

Young women who recently graduated from law schools counted for 16 of the 32 people who applied for the positions. There is still one month until the application deadline, and the number of hopeful women is expected to increase.

Career opportunities that come with the position of a prosecutor include the chance to become a judge.

Before this week the job was only open to male applicants.

The inclusion of women in the applicant pool was no easy feat, opposition from several official and civil voices claimed the move was morally wrong.
Several female applicants have said that they would remember the day as a “historic breakthrough.”

An anonymous job hopeful told Arabic daily Al Qabas, “this is a beautiful day in my life.” “This is great because in the past women studied law for four years at the university and after they graduated they were employed in other specialties. Their highest ambition was to become lawyers,” she said.

Another applicant is shocked by the opposition to women becoming judges.

“There are claims that we should not be allowed to become judges,” she said. “They are baseless and we are grateful that we have finally obtained our rights. The young women before us were deprived of such rights and that was not fair. Now, there is a new beginning. The position requires specific criteria and we are confident that only those who meet them will be selected,” she stated.

MP Dr Aseel Al-Awadhi realizes that there is still a lot to be done to assure gender equality, despite the strides made by women in the country over the past few years, he was quoted as saying in the Arab Times.

The Kuwaiti constitution allows women political, social and economic rights, however they do face opposition when trying to break through the conservative mold.

Breakthroughs in equality were achieved in 2009 for example, Women were allowed to enter Parliament for the first time after winning four of the 50 seats in parliamentary elections.

They went on to lose those seats in the February round of elections, regaining three in December’s legislative polls after the former parliament was dissolved.

Some of these women hold other, notable, positions in the government. Dhikra Al Rashidi , is minister of social affairs and labor while Rola Dashti is minister of development and parliament affairs.

( / 15.01.2013)

Kuwaiti forces disperse protesters with stun grenades

KUWAIT (Reuters) — Security forces used stun grenades to disperse hundreds of opposition activists trying to stage a march in Kuwait on Sunday, part of a series of protests against what they see as a rubber-stamp parliament, and made several arrests.

Protest marches have grown more frequent in the US-allied oil producer since the opposition boycotted a parliamentary election on Dec. 1 over changes to voting laws that they saw as an attempt to favor pro-government candidates.

Witnesses said between 200 and 300 people had barely gathered in an affluent suburb of Kuwait City late on Sunday when security forces ordered them to disperse because their rally was not licensed.

One witness said that when the men and women moved to the middle of the road and began chanting, security forces attacked them with smoke bombs and stun grenades.

The security forces chased the demonstrators into side streets and arrested about 20 people, including a former MP, according to his Twitter account.

“I saw about a dozen people being arrested,” one witness told Reuters.

An Interior Ministry spokesman said several “instigators of unrest” had been arrested but that security forces had used only stun grenades.

A long-running power struggle between members of Kuwait’s elected parliament and its cabinet, appointed by a prime minister chosen by the emir, has held up reforms, stalled investment and prompted the dissolution of a series of assemblies.

The last, opposition-dominated parliament collapsed in February. With the opposition boycotting last month’s election, the sixth since mid-2006, more than half the 50 lawmakers in the new National Assembly are newcomers to parliamentary politics.

Sunday’s protest was the fifth in a series organized by the opposition since the emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, used emergency powers to cut the number of votes per citizen to one from four, saying it would fix a flawed system and ensure security.

Members of Kuwait’s disparate opposition groups said the measure would hurt their ability to encourage supporters to cast additional votes for their allies and thus form political relationships in a country that does not allow political parties.

Kuwait has the most open political system in the Gulf Arab region – parliament has legislative powers and can question government ministers over policy.

But the Al-Sabah family, which has ruled Kuwait for more than 250 years, holds the key levers of power, with the top portfolios such as the interior, defence and foreign ministries held by members of the ruling family.

( / 06.01.2013)

Kuwaitis in peaceful mass march against new-rules parliament

(Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Kuwaitis marched in the capital on Saturday in peaceful protest against a parliament elected last week in the Gulf Arab state under voting rules deemed unfair by the opposition.

Rule changes passed by decree in October, which reduced the number of votes per citizen to one from four, have prompted a spate of demonstrations and led the opposition to boycott the December 1 election.

The government, in which members of the ruling family hold top posts, says the new rules bring Kuwait in line with democratic norms elsewhere. The opposition, which includes Islamist and populist politicians, says they were designed to skew elections in favour of pro-government candidates.

Crowds of men, women and children wearing orange, the colour of the protest movement, marched along a coast road on the edge of the capital, heading for Kuwait Towers, a major landmark by the Gulf.

Holding Kuwaiti and orange flags, they chanted: “The people want to bring down the decree!” They sang and clapped, giving the march a festive feel as a police helicopter circled above.

Years of political turmoil have held up investment and economic reforms in Kuwait, a U.S. ally and OPEC member state which has held four parliamentary elections since 2006.

The protesters say they want wider political reforms but not an Arab Spring-style revolution.

“We reject the last election because of the one vote system, because most of the people did not participate. We want the four-vote system back and new elections,” said 21-year-old student Saad al-Zobi.

Ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah has said his amendments will help preserve national security and stability.


Under the old system, politicians could urge supporters to cast additional ballots for like-minded candidates – a way to build informal alliances in a country where parties are banned.

“We – the people – should be consulted when there are any big changes,” Nadja Saleh, a 45-year-old bank worker said, gesturing at the crowd. Slogans carried on large orange banners included “Justice, liberty and equality” and “Dictatorship is destructive, democracy is constructive.”

Police had put up some barricades along the march route but their presence appeared light. Other recent marches, which authorities said were unlicensed, have been broken up using tear gas and smoke bombs.

The new parliament is expected to be more government-friendly than its predecessor, elected in February. The opposition held a majority in the last assembly and put pressure on the cabinet, forcing two ministers out of office.

Kuwait has the most open political system among the Gulf Arab states. Parliament has legislative powers and the right to question ministers. But the emir, head of the Al-Sabah family that has ruled Kuwait for 250 years, appoints the prime minister, who chooses the cabinet.

The government says opposition lawmakers have used parliament to settle scores rather than pass laws to develop the economy. Opposition politicians accuse the government of mismanagement and have called for an elected cabinet.

( / 08.12.2012)

Kuwait Interior Ministry warns against illegal protests

Supporters of MPs who are boycotting the upcoming elections protest against a new election law in front of a newspaper’s office in Shuwaikh Oct. 31, 2012.

KUWAIT (Reuters) — Kuwait’s Interior Ministry said it would take all necessary measures to prevent “unauthorized assembly” in the Gulf Arab state after dispersing protesters it said threw stones and tried to mow down police with cars.

Police have broken up a series of snap demonstrations outside the capital since Saturday, part of protests triggered by changes to voting rules the opposition said were designed to skew elections in favor of pro-government candidates.

The opposition, which includes Islamist and populist politicians, refused to stand in last Saturday’s parliamentary vote.

“A crowd marched in several residential areas in some districts in violation of laws and procedures,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement carried by state news agency KUNA late on Tuesday, referring to a march the previous evening.

“The Interior Ministry will never allow any unauthorized gatherings whatever their aims and needs are.” It said several police were hurt on Monday when some protesters in cars attempted to run over police. Others were hit by stones.

Tens of thousands marched peacefully in the capital on Friday in what organizers said was the largest protest in Kuwaiti history, to urge people to shun the election.

The authorized march was organized by youth groups and backed by opposition politicians on the eve of the election. They plan another march on Saturday.

Rallies outside parliament have been held regularly and peacefully for years, but police broke up three big marches in October and November with tear gas, saying organizers did not have a permit.

Protesters in those marches said they were pushing for reform, not an Arab Spring-style revolution like those that have ousted four Arab autocratic rulers since early last year.

Ban on unlicensed gatherings

Kuwait allows more political freedom than other Gulf Arab states but has been more readily reinforcing a ban on public gatherings of more than 20 people without a permit.

The government made it clear last month it would suppress unauthorized street protests to protect public safety, but analysts say the hard line could provoke deeper unrest.

The Alaan news website showed pictures of injured protesters and said others had been detained. It said police used a water cannon to disperse crowds on Monday. Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai said the protest was broken up with tear gas and stun grenades.

Kuwaitis protested again overnight on Tuesday in Sabah al-Nasser and Jahra, some of the more run-down neighborhoods to the southwest of Kuwait City, al-Rai added.

On Wednesday, the daily published a photo of a police firing tear gas from a truck and a photo of a group of youths with headscarves wrapped around their faces throwing what it said were stones. It was not clear when the pictures taken.

Saturday’s election was divisive due to the change to voting rules announced by emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah six weeks before the poll. He said the changes fixed flaws in the voting system and would help ensure national unity and stability.

The opposition refused to contest the election, saying the new rule was designed to prevent it winning the majority it held in the last parliament and called for more demonstrations.

( / 05.12.2012)

Kuwaitis vote in divisive election after protests

A woman casts her ballot during parliamentary elections at a polling station in Kuwait City Dec. 1, 2012.

KUWAIT (Reuters) — Kuwaitis voted on Saturday in a divisive parliamentary election held under new polling rules that triggered an opposition boycott of the ballot and mass protests.

The election is the second this year in the oil-rich Gulf Arab state, where a series of assemblies have collapsed due to a power struggle between elected MPs and the cabinet.

Tens of thousands marched on Friday in what organizers said was the largest protest in Kuwaiti history, to urge people to shun the ballot box in protest at a rule change they say will skew the outcome in favor of pro-government candidates.

The ruling emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, used emergency powers in October to cut the number of votes per citizen to one from four, saying his decree would fix a flawed system and ensure national unity.

The opposition says the new one-vote system will prevent its candidates winning the majority they had in the last vote.

In the past, its candidates have called on supporters to cast their additional ballots for allies. They say such informal affiliations are crucial due to a ban on political parties.

“The old system was unfair for people in some areas of Kuwait,” 28-year-old Dalal al-Aboud said at a voting station in a suburb on the edge of Kuwait City.

“I think it will be better if we try this new method, then we judge if it is fair or not.”

Polls opened at 8 a.m. About 423,000 Kuwaitis are eligible to cast ballots to choose the 50 members of parliament.

Turnout crucial

Officials in polling stations in several districts said turnout appeared lighter than usual, but final figures would only be ready later in the day. Polls close at 8 p.m. and results may come around three hours later, officials said.

Opposition figures, who include Islamist, tribal and liberal former lawmakers, have refused to stand.

Information Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Mubarak al-Sabah said there was a “significant and positive” voter turnout in the second district, which comprises the capital and nearby areas.

The opposition tends to dominate voting in poorer districts furthest from the capital.

Near a polling station in the south of the country, where tribal candidates have polled strongly in the past, Ahmed al-Azemi said he would not vote because his tribe was boycotting.

“The Azemi family, we are against the election,” he said. “The new parliament will last only a month. A National Assembly without the opposition is useless.”

Around him older men sat drinking tea and arguing about the boycott. Asked who had voted, three of the 10 raised their hands, to shouts from the others.

“If the turnout is lower than 50 percent then you could say the boycott is successful,” said Ghanem al-Najjar, professor of political science at Kuwait University.

Turnout in the past three elections was around 60 percent.

Kuwait, a US ally, has the most open political system among the Gulf Arab states with a parliament that has legislative powers and the ability to scrutinize ministers.

But the emir’s Al-Sabah family, which has ruled Kuwait for 250 years, holds the main portfolios in the cabinet and Sheikh Sabah has the final say in state matters.

“His highness the emir is responsible for the country and knows best how to maintain its stability,” Interior Minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Hamoud al-Sabah said.

“Kuwait was, still is and will continue to be a beacon in the Arab world when it comes to the transparency and impartiality of elections,” he said on state news agency KUNA.

Female voters and candidates

University professor Alia Shuaib said women, who received the right to vote in 2005, were still finding it an uplifting experience to cast their ballots.

“I believe it is my duty as a woman and as a Kuwaiti national to vote,” she said.

“It is a pleasure to get up, dress, get my papers and vote. It is breathtaking,” the 45-year-old said.

“I believe every person should vote and put the right people in parliament. We want educated people, the best.”

There are 14 female candidates out of a total of 302. The last parliament contained no female MPs.

The opposition won around two-thirds of the National Assembly in February and formed a bloc that put pressure on the government, forcing two ministers from office.

That parliament was dissolved after a June court ruling, the latest stage in a standoff which has stalled investment and economic reforms.

( / 01.12.2012)

Kuwaiti security forces teargas opposition protest

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah (R) meets with Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah at Riyadh airport.
KUWAIT (Reuters) — Kuwaiti security forces fired tear gas to disperse a banned demonstration on Sunday by about 2,000 opposition supporters against new voting rules for parliamentary elections on Dec. 1.

OPEC member and US ally Kuwait has so far avoided the mass pro-democracy unrest that has toppled rulers in four other Arab countries since last year, but tension has mounted this year in a long-running power struggle between parliament and the government which is dominated by the ruling Al-Sabah family.

Next month’s elections will be the second in Kuwait this year after an opposition bloc made up of Islamists, liberals and tribal leaders won a majority in polls in February.

That parliament was effectively dissolved by a court ruling in June that reinstated a more pro-government assembly, but the old legislature was unable to meet due to a boycott by lawmakers leading to another dissolution and a call by the emir for snap elections to end the deadlock.

The emir then announced changes to the electoral law last month which some opposition politicians say are an attempt to give pro-government candidates an advantage in the polls.

Opposition leaders have said they will boycott the elections and have called for demonstrations.

Hundreds of police lined the route in central Kuwait City hours before the planned march on Sunday, raising fears of a repeat of clashes last month between police and thousands of demonstrators that ended with at least 30 people hospitalized.

‘A coup against the constitution’

The Information Ministry had cleared its car park on the command of the National Guard, news service al-Rai said in an SMS alert, while a major shopping mall and meeting point along the march route closed early.

Protesters instead gathered on the side of a motorway away from the center of town, but security forces moved in and fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

“Our duty is to maintain internal security and public order and to deter lawlessness in all of its forms,” Interior Minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Hamoud al-Sabah said on state news agency KUNA.

But opposition activists were undeterred.

“We will continue. The opposition no longer cares about government statements,” said an activist who declined to be named.

The Kuwait stock index fell to its lowest level since July 2004 on Sunday, according to Reuters data.

Kuwait has one of the most open political systems in the Gulf with an elected parliament with legislative powers. However, the 83-year-old emir has the final say in state affairs and picks the prime minister, who in turn selects the cabinet, with most of the important portfolios held by members of ruling family.

Under Kuwait’s constitution, parliament confirms governments, passes laws presented by the cabinet and oversees the performance of various ministries. Lawmakers also have the right to summon ministers for questioning over policies.

The current crisis was sparked when the emir used his powers to order amendments to the voting rules, saying they were necessary for national unity.

The opposition has called the changes – which allow voters to choose only one candidate per electoral district – “a coup against the constitution”, saying the reform would prevent its candidates taking the majority they won in the last vote.

( / 04.11.2012)