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Kuwait opposition leader sentenced to 5 years for criticizing regime

Kuwait opposition leader and former MP Mussallam Al Barrak [Gulf News profile] was sentenced on Tuesday to five years in prison for criticizing leader Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah [official website], which is a crime under Kuwait's constitution. Barrak was arrested [JURIST report] in October after a public speech was found to contain remarks detrimental to the "social and political balance of the country." The remarks came during a boycott movement led by Barrak against a controversial election law [AP report] that the opposition claims is illegal and will establish a rubber stamp parliament. Violent protests erupted after Barrak was arrested last October, and there is concern that the verdict will again spark unrest. Barrak's sentencing comes a week after a report that the Kuwaiti government has begun to consider a media law [AP report] that could bring fines up to one million US dollars for insulting the Emir or the ruling family.

Kuwait's constitutional court upheld [JURIST report] the election law in September. In August, leaders of the political opposition in Kuwait criticized [JURIST report] the government's efforts to change the country's election law through the Constitutional Court, saying the government was attempting to seize power through the court in violation of the constitution. The government announced in August that they had asked the national Constitutional Court to review the legality of the country's election law. In June the Constitutional Court ruled that last year's election for the new parliament was unconstitutional [JURIST report] and the previous parliament of 2009 should be reinstated, thereby removing the opposition-controlled parliament and restoring a more government-friendly body.

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