Former Kuwaiti lawmaker Musallam al-Barrak gestures while speaking to journalists at Parliament's media center in Kuwait City November 20, 2011. (File Photo Reuters)
A Kuwaiti court sentenced opposition leader and former MP Mussallam al-Barrak to five years in prison on Monday after he was convicted of insulting the country's emir.
Barrak, a nationalist, was charged with making statements offensive to the ruler of the oil-rich Gulf state, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, at a public rally on October 15.
Criticising the emir is a crime in Kuwait that carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail.
"The court has sentenced the defendant Mussallam al-Barrak to five years in prison with immediate effect," said judge Wael al-Atiqi in a half-packed courtroom in Kuwait City's Palace of Justice.
Barrak later told supporters at his residence that the "ruling is illegal but I will give myself up to police if they come to pick me up."
The verdict dictates the jail term must be implemented immediately and police could arrest the opposition leader at any time.
Hundreds of opposition activists and former MPs rushed to Barrak's residence in Al-Andalus, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) southwest of Kuwait City, to express solidarity with him.
The activists agreed to stage a demonstration later on Monday and urged Kuwaitis to join them.
One of Barrak's lawyers, Abdullah al-Ahmad, said "the ruling is null and void because it violated the legal procedures and for failing to provide the defence team with sufficient guarantees."
"We will appeal against the ruling in the appeals court," he told AFP outside the courtroom.
Last week, Barrak's defence team walked out of court after the judge refused requests to hear defence witnesses who included the Kuwaiti premier and two former opposition MPs.
Barrak had asked Atiqi to postpone the trial until he found a new lawyer but the judge refused and insisted he would proceed with the case on Monday.
The verdict was issued amid tight security inside and outside the Palace of Justice.
Kuwaiti stocks dived over 100 points or 1.4 percent immediately after the ruling was announced but most of the losses were recovered later.
Former liberal MP Abdulrahman al-Anjari said "the ruling is purely political ... far away from the principles of justice."
The verdict came two days after the Kuwaiti opposition threatened to stage street protests and call for civil disobedience if Barrak was denied a fair trial and jailed.
The opposition leader was detained for four days in late October and released on bail. He is also facing trial on several other charges including storming parliament and participating in protests.
Several opposition tweeters and former MPs have been sentenced to jail terms on charges of insulting the emir.
Kuwait's opposition has been staging protests to demand the dissolution of the parliament elected last December on the basis of an electoral law that had been amended by the emir.
The opposition claimed that the change is illegal and is aimed at electing a rubber stamp parliament.