Human rights defenders and online activists targeted ahead of elections
As Kuwait prepares for earlier-than-expected parliamentary elections on 26th November, authorities continue to target human rights defenders and online activists. The growing popularity of social networking platforms has led to increased opportunities for human rights advocacy and opposition political activity, with government efforts to counter them increasing in parallel. According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch on the clampdown on online activists in the Gulf, Kuwaiti authorities have increasingly targeted human rights defenders, bloggers and journalists because of their peaceful online activities. One recent contributor to the Al Monitor believes:
'dissent is clearly on the rise in Kuwait and so is the monarchy’s increasingly authoritarian response to it.'
On 22th September, Kuwait's public prosecutor issued an order to imprison blogger and human rights defender Sara Al-Drees for 21 days in connection with a state security case. Al-Drees is accused of allegedly defaming the Amir of Kuwait, Shaikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, in a Tweet published on her personal Twitter account. On 24th September she surrendered herself voluntarily and was transferred to the central prison. Shortly afterwards, her lawyer announced that she had started a hunger strike in protest at her imprisonment. Her hunger strike lasted for over a week.
In a public statement on 27th September, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights urged the authorities in Kuwait to:
1- Release Sarah Al-Drees immediately and without conditions;
2- Drop the charge against her as it violates the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and
3- Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders and bloggers are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities and to exercise their right to freedom of expression without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
In her first hearing on 7th October, the Criminal Court released Al-Drees on bail and postponed the verdict to 27th October. On that date her trial was postponed again until 24th November. In the first hearing the Court also imposed a travel ban on her.
On 18th October, the Appeal Court in Kuwait confirmed a three-month sentence with labour against human rights defender Abdulhakim Al-Fadhli. As reported by the Gulf Center for Human Rights, Al-Fadhli had been charged with 'incitement to demonstrate, resisting the security men, destroying security personnel vehicles, and destabilising the security and stability of the country.' The sentence was handed down by the Criminal Court on a charge related to the staging of a demonstration in 2012 calling for respect for the rights of the Bedoon community in Kuwait.