Kuwait detains opposition MP for “offending” emir, “humiliating” Sisi

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Published Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Kuwaiti authorities detained a former liberal opposition lawmaker for allegedly insulting the Gulf state's emir and criticizing a visit by the Egyptian president, his lawyer said Wednesday.

After holding him overnight on Tuesday, public prosecutor sentenced Saleh al-Mulla to 10 days in detention pending trial after questioning him about comments made on Twitter, Lawyer Abdullah al-Ahmed told AFP.

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, who concluded a two-day visit to Kuwait on Tuesday.

Mulla was also accused of allegedly threatening Kuwaiti-Egyptian relations by criticizing Sisi, the lawyer said.

Ahmed said there was no legal justification for Mulla's detention and demanded his immediate release, adding that he will file a petition on Thursday to the court requesting that Mulla be freed pending the trial.

In his tweets, Mulla repeatedly urged Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah not to give more financial aid to Sisi.

In one tweet, he said any money given to Sisi should be taken back by Kuwaitis.

Kuwait along with other Gulf states backed Sisi following the military overthrow of former president Mohammed Mursi in July 2013 after mass protests demanded an end to the one-year Islamist rule.

Moreover, Kuwait has offered Cairo aid worth some $4 billion.

Other opposition activists launched an online campaign against Sisi's visit, urging authorities not to give more funds to Egypt.

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

The news came two days after 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. His lawyers are working on getting him acquitted.

Barrak, a former MP, was accused of making remarks in a speech at an October 2012 opposition rally deemed disrespectful to the emir and questioning his authority.

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 offence, with those found guilty faced with 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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