Kuwait Detains Activists for “Offending” Late Saudi King Abdullah

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Thursday, January 29, 2015

Kuwait authorities have detained several online activists for comments deemed offensive to Saudi Arabia's late King Abdullah, a rights group and activists said Thursday.

Secret police arrested prominent rights and online activist Mohammed al-Ajmi outside his home for "unknown reasons" late on Wednesday, the National Committee for Monitoring Violations, an independent rights group of which Ajmi is a member said on its Twitter account.

Online activists and former MPs said on Twitter that Ajmi was being held for questioning over Tweets he made on Saudi Arabia.

Nawaf al-Hendal, a leading rights activist, said at least four others had been detained by state security for tweets deemed offensive to King Abdullah, who died on Friday.

Hendal, currently in Geneva, also said on his Twitter account that arrest warrants have been issued against him and five other tweeters for the same reason.

The Gulf Center for Human Rights, an independent body, said Hendal was being "targeted in order to intimidate him and others from working as defenders of human rights."

There was no word on the arrests from the interior ministry and the public prosecutor has not announced any charges.

Kuwait has cracked down on activists for making comments seen as critical of the oil-rich state's ruler and other Arab leaders, especially in the Gulf.

Earlier in January, Kuwaiti authorities detained former liberal opposition lawmaker Saleh al-Mulla for allegedly insulting the Gulf state's emir and criticizing a visit by the Egyptian president.

Mulla was an MP for several years before he boycotted elections in December 2012 in protest at the government's amendment of Kuwait's electoral law.

His lawyer said the former MP was accused of writing comments on Twitter deemed "offensive" to Kuwait's emir and "humiliating" for Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Mulla was also accused of allegedly threatening Kuwaiti-Egyptian relations by criticizing Sisi, the lawyer said.

Kuwaiti authorities continue to prosecute hundreds of bloggers under the pretext of “undermining the status of the emir.”

Also in January, the supreme court sentenced activist Saqr al-Hashash to 20 months in prison on charges of insulting the emir on Twitter and “misusing a cell phone.”

The monarchy's courts have handed down prison sentences to several opposition activists and former MPs for social media remarks deemed insulting to the emir.

Prominent opposition leader Musallam al-Barrak is also facing charges of insulting the emir and undermining his status.

The lower court sentenced him to five years in jail in 2013 but the verdict was scrapped by the appeals court over flawed legal procedures. The court set February 22 to issue its verdict.

The monarchy’s constitution describes the emir as "immune and inviolable." Criticizing the emir is therefore illegal and considered a state security offense, with those found guilty facing up to five years behind bars.

International rights campaigners accuse the Kuwaiti government of restricting the freedom of expression since the eruption of pro-reform protests in 2012, which led to the cabinet's resignation.

According to Human Rights Watch's 2014 world report, Kuwaiti authorities prosecuted in 2013 dozens of people who expressed critical views of the government, via social media or during the protests.

In October, Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at HRW, commented on the crackdown in Kuwait, saying "the Kuwaiti authorities seem to think they can use the cover of the nationality law to target their critics and deter dissent."

"But Kuwait's real message of official intimidation has rung out loud and clear," he said.

"While Kuwait continues to strip people of citizenship for no good reason, its reputation as a tolerant country will continue to nosedive," Houry added.

In September, Kuwait revoked the citizenship of 18 activists, including prominent opposition activist Saad al-Ajmi, spokesman of the nationalist opposition Popular Action Movement, in a political move by the government, which vowed to crackdown on people deemed to be undermining state stability.

The action is not uncommon in Kuwait where people who live without citizenship rights are unable to access services such as healthcare and education.

Kuwait is usually portrayed to have more political freedom than other Gulf Arab states, with a lively press and an elected parliament, but the country has banned public gatherings of more than 20 people without a permit.

Kuwait's Information Ministry has also cancelled the licenses of a local newspaper and a television channel.

Kuwait has seen many opposition-led demonstrations in protest against the changes to the electoral law, which opposition groups claimed allowed the government to influence election results and elect a rubber-stamp assembly.

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.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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