Kuwait continues to crack down on HRDs
The authorities in Kuwait continue to use the country's 2015 Cyber Crimes Law to justify a crackdown against independent media, human rights defenders and activists. On 24th November 2016, a hearing took place in the ongoing trial of blogger and human rights defender, Sara Al-Drees. Al-Drees, a 29-year-old teacher and human rights activist, had originally been arrested in September 2016 on charges of defamation against the Emir of Kuwait as well as misuse of a mobile phone to publish allegedly defamatory tweets. In that month she had posted four tweets referring to her previous detention and expressing support for an opposition leader. The charges being lobbied against Al-Drees are in direct violation of Kuwait's Cyber Crimes Law.
Within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, an independent observer monitored the proceedings of Al-Drees's hearing on behalf of a coalition of human rights organisations, including the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The following concern was expressed in the trial observation report,
"The prosecution of Al-Drees under Article 25 of the Penal Code and the new Cyber Crimes Law is part of a concerning pattern of state action whereby freedom of expression has been gravely eroded in Kuwait since 2011 and continues to come under attack."
Although Al-Drees' trial proceedings complied with some aspects of the law, namely she had access to counsel from an independent lawyer of her choice, the report notes that the hearing did not fully meet international standards. And most importantly, the 'procedural fairness' of Al-Drees’ ongoing trial cannot be evaluated in full without considering the inherent conflicts within the law. As the independent observer confirmed:
"Article 25 of the Penal Code already effectively places Kuwait's ruler beyond any public criticism. But the concurrent use of the new Cybercrimes Law in this case constitutes a further erosion of the space for the free exchange of opinion and ideas."
A joint submission by GCHR and ISHR to the 68th pre-session of the Working Group of the Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women emphasised and highlighted the particular situation for women human rights defenders in Kuwait, including the cases of Sara Al-Drees and leading opposition MP, Musallam Al-Barrak. The report showed that freedom of expression has been severely curtailed throughout the region, and the consequence for exercising this fundamental right is shown by the hundreds of arrests and cases of judicial harassment. According to the report, states in the region have justified these human rights violations in order to ‘counter terrorism’ and ensure ‘national security’.
On 22nd February 2017, detained human rights defender Abdulhakim Al-Fadhli began a hunger strike to demand his release from prison after finishing his three-month sentence. Reports received by the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR) confirmed that the Central Prison continues to hold Al-Fadhli, claiming that he must spend an additional 35 days in prison for charges brought against him in 2012, when he organised and participated in a peaceful demonstration to demand citizenship rights for the Bedoon community - an ethnic group of 120,000 stateless persons in Kuwait whose rights are routinely violated by the state. In the 2012 case, he faced charges of “incitement to demonstrate, resisting arrest, destroying security personnel vehicles, and destabilising the security and stability of the country.” GCHR continues to monitor Al-Fadhli's condition and petition for his immediate release.