HRW urges Kuwait to amend laws curbing free speech

AFP , Tuesday 4 Feb 2014

Human Rights Watch urged Kuwait on Tuesday to amend laws that officials are using to crack down on free speech and send people to jail for criticising the country's ruler.

HRW also called on Kuwaiti authorities to fulfil their promises to resolve the decades-old problem of over 100,000 stateless people, or bidoons, who claim the right to citizenship.

During the past year, authorities in the Gulf state have brought cases against at least 29 people for expressing critical views on social media platforms and at protests, the New York-based HRW said in a statement on the occasion of releasing its 2014 report on Kuwait.

"The government should let Kuwait's people speak and write freely, and keep its promises to address Bidoon citizenship claims," said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at HRW.

Prosecutors brought most of the speech cases under the vaguely worded article 25 of Kuwait's 1970 penal code, under which anyone who publicly "objects to the rights and authorities of the emir or faults him," can be jailed up to five years, HRW said.

The Kuwaiti ruler, Emir Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, pardoned in July all those jailed under article 25, but authorities subsequently brought charges against at least three more people.

HRW said that in 2013, security forces violently dispersed several protests staged by stateless people demanding citizenship and other basic rights, with police beating and detaining protesters and threatening to deny citizenship applications.

Kuwait is home to at least 105,702 bidoons, many descended from nomadic people who failed to register for citizenship before a 1960 deadline. In March 2011, the government granted them some benefits and services, but it did not cover everyone.

HRW also accused Kuwait of adopting "mechanisms facilitating quick, non-judicial deportations," of foreigners who make-up 2.7 million or 69 percent of the country's population of 3.9 million.

It said that hundreds of foreigners were deported for committing traffic offences.

After not using the death penalty since 2007, Kuwait executed five prisoners during 2013, HRW said.

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