[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [official website] reported [press release] Sunday that riot police in Kuwait disbanded protests this week, arresting 16 protesters who may be charged with attacking law enforcement officers and illegal gathering. The demonstrators were seeking democratic reforms including new parliamentary elections, release of some political prisoners, and an end to judicial corruption. Eleven of the demonstrators were released Wednesday and the remaining five are still in custody. This was the was the third straight week [AFP report] of demonstrations in Kuwait City, which began when former lawmaker Mussallam al-Barrak was arrested for insulting the monarch. HRW urged Kuwait to abide by Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [text], which the country ratified in 1996, granting the right of peaceful assembly. Though permission must be granted for official marches in Kuwait, HRW authorities asked the country to respect the right to demonstrate peacefully. The press release also reiterated the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials [text], stating that “law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. They may use force and firearms only if other means remain ineffective or without any promise of achieving the intended result.”
Throughout the years the Kuwaiti government has been criticized for restricting rights to assembly and for not permitting free speech in the country. In January Nabil al-Fadhl, a member of the Kuwait parliament, was charged with insulting [JURIST report] the honor of Kuwaiti society and history after making a comment in support of the legalized sale of alcohol. Also in January, Kuwaiti authorities ordered the 10-day detainment of former lawmaker Saleh al-Mullah [personal Twitter account, in Arabic] for tweets criticizing [JURIST report] the Gulf country’s leader Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah [official website] and his support for Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. Later that month a Kuwaiti appeals court upheld [JURIST report] a lower court ruling that sentenced a man to five years in prison for posting comments about the Gulf nation’s ruler on Twitter. A court in Kuwait last October convicted [JURIST report] 13 people of challenging the country’s ruler by reciting a speech from Musallam al- Barrack, a leading opposition figure. In July 2013 Kuwait’s Supreme Court upheld [JURIST report] a 10-year prison sentence for a man accused of posting Tweets insulting the Prophet Mohammed and the Sunni Muslim [BBC backgrounders] rulers of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.