Middle East

HRW urges Kuwait to drop charges against opposition activists

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Human Rights Watch has urged Kuwait to drop charges against those accused of offending the ruler of the oil-rich Persian Gulf littoral state.

“The Kuwaiti authorities should drop criminal charges against dozens of online activists, journalists, and politicians for legitimately exercising their rights to freedom of expression,” HRW said in a statement released on Tuesday.

On Monday, a Kuwaiti court sentenced opposition leader and former MP Mussallam al-Barrak to five years in prison for insulting Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah during a rally on October 15, 2012.

Following the court’s decision, thousands of Kuwaitis took to the streets in protest against what they called an illegal verdict.

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.

Since the December 1, 2012 parliamentary elections, the opposition has been staging almost daily protests to demand the dissolution of the new parliament and the reversion of changes made to the electoral law.

Activists say a decision to change the electoral law by the ruler is aimed at electing a rubber-stamp parliament.

Kuwait was the first Arab state in the Persian Gulf to establish an elected parliament in 1962. However, the Al Sabah family remained in control of key posts, including the premiership and the ministries of defense, interior, and foreign affairs.

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