Rights group slams Kuwait ban on stateless demo
, Friday 13 Jan 2012
Human Rights Watch weighs criticism on Kuwaiti ban on protest for stateless bidoons

Human Rights Watch on Friday strongly criticised a decision by the Gulf state of Kuwait to bar stateless people from protesting, saying the order denies them their rights and should be revoked.

Kuwait's interior ministry has issued three statements this week warning stateless people, locally known as illegal residents or bidoons, not to demonstrate or they will be punished.

"This is a shameful effort to curb the rights to peaceful expression and assembly of Kuwait’s bidoons," Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch's Middle East director, said in a statement.

"These universal rights belong to everyone, regardless of whether they are considered citizens or are fighting to gain citizenship," she said.

In one of the statements issued on Thursday, the Kuwaiti interior ministry warned bidoons, some of whom plan to demonstrate later on Friday, that "they will only have themselves to blame" if they gather again.

The authorities claim that Kuwaiti law allows only citizens of the oil-rich emirate to demonstrate.

Thousands of bidoons have been demonstrating for the past several weeks to press for citizenship and other basic rights they claim they have been deprived of.

Kuwait has long alleged that bidoons, and in some cases their ancestors, destroyed their original passports to claim the right to Kuwaiti citizenship in order to gain access to the services and generous benefits provided to citizens by the state.

In a bid to force the bidoons to produce their original nationality papers, Kuwait has refused to issue essential documents to most of them, including birth, marriage and death certificates, according to a June report by the New York-based rights group.

Fifty-two bidoons are on trial for protesting while 32 others are under investigation.

More than 105,000 stateless people have been living in Kuwait for decades but were denied citizenship. The government says only 34,000 of them qualify for citizenship.