Kuwait fails to implement UPR recommendations, HRDs defending Bedoon rights systematically targeted

Association

Kuwait did not implement any of the 13 recommendations in relation to civic space since its last Universal Periodic Review in 2015, according to a joint submission made to the third cycle of the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Kuwait, by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), MENA Rights Group and CIVICUS in September 2019. In the previous UPR cycle, the Kuwaiti authorities accepted 13 recommendations on civic space, specifically on the situation of human rights defenders, and the protection of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Yet, human rights defenders face severe restrictions, with women human rights defenders and Bedoon (stateless community) activists facing heightened threats. 

Peaceful Assembly

Starting on 11th July 2019, several Bedoon activists and protesters were arrested for holding demonstrations in Freedom Square in Tayma, in the Governorate of Jahra, and Al Erada Square, in Kuwait City. The protestors demanded recognition of the rights of the Bedoon following a young man’s death by suicide. More arrests followed. They face three main charges: misuse of their phones, and calling for and joining an unauthorised gathering. According to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), 15 activists from the Bedoon community were arrested and detained in Kuwait’s Public Prison on charges related to peaceful assembly. The activists: Abdulhakim Al-Fadhli, Ahmed Al-Onan, Awad Al-Onan, Abdullah Al-Fadhli, Mutaib Al-Onan, Mohammed Khudair Al-Anzi, Yousif Al-Osmi, Nawaf Al-Bader, Hamid Jamil, Yousif Al-Bashig, Jarallah Al-Fadhli, Ahmed Shaya Al-Anzi, Hamoud Al-Rabah, Khalifa Al-Anzi and Reda Al-Fadhli embarked on a hunger strike from 22nd August to 2nd September 2019 to demand their immediate and unconditional release, that charges against them be dropped and that the civil and human rights of the Bedoon community in Kuwait be respected. Some of them alleged that they were tortured in detention.

On 26th September 2019, GC4HR reported that five activists were released conditionally without bail, after they were presented in court for hearing. They were released on condition that they present themselves at any time following a summons. The hearing was adjourned until 15th October 2019 when other witnesses will be called to testify against the remaining activists.

According to Amnesty International, there are over 100,000 Bedoon residents in Kuwait, many who have lived in the country for generations, with most of them having been born there.

Expression

The government continues to use the Cyber Crimes Law to arrest journalists and online critics of the authorities. The Law, which came into force on 12th January 2016, contains 21 articles which seek to regulate a number of online activities in Kuwait. Article 6 punishes editors and writers with up to a year’s imprisonment and a fine of up to 20,000 Dinars (USD$65,800) for, among other things, “criticising the Head of State” (the Emir). It also prohibits acts which “prejudice public morals or incite to breach public order or violation of laws or to commit crimes even if the crime did not occur.”

For instance, on 10th February 2019, human rights defenders Abdulhakim Al-Fadhli and Hamed Jameel were summoned by the Electronic and Cyber Crime Combatting Department (ECCCD) in Kuwait, which is affiliated to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Al-Fadhli was questioned about using his Twitter account to call on citizens to gather in front of the Central Apparatus for Illegal Residents’ Affairs. Jameel was separately questioned about allegedly setting up a fake Twitter account, which was used to attack two members of the Group of 80 who support Saleh Al-Fadala, head of the Central Apparatus for Illegal Residents’ Affairs. The two were released later that day.

On 11th February 2019, human rights defender Khalifa Al-Anezi was summoned to an investigation by the ECCCD after he tweeted a call for citizens to gather in front of the Central Apparatus. He was released six hours later after paying bail of 200 dinars (almost USD$660). On 12th February 2019, human rights defender Karima Karam was interrogated for two hours at the ECCCD for tweets about the rights of domestic workers. Human rights defender Anwar Al-Roqi was also interrogated at the ECCCD, about tweets calling for the basic rights of the Bedoon community.

The government of Kuwait established the Central Apparatus for Illegal Residents’ Affairs in 2010 to address the chronic problems of the stateless Bedoon community, but it has failed to reform the situation and protect Bedoon people’s civil and human rights for years. Al-Fadhli and Jameel are prominent activists who have been involved in defending the rights of the Bedoon community.

In a separate development, on 2nd January 2019, security forces in Kuwait arrested journalist and writer Aisha Al-Rasheed under the Cyber Crimes Law following online posts about corruption in government. The Office of the Emir of Kuwait and some of its employees filed five complaints against her after recordings she made were posted on social media and WhatsApp. She was released four days later.