HRDs, journalists face a sustained campaign of interrogation and detention

Ahead of the Universal Periodic Review of Kuwait at the United Nations Human Rights Council on 29th January 2020, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, the International Service for Human Rights, CIVICUS and the MENA Rights Group made a submission encouraging States to consult the UPR submissions of local activists and make recommendations to Kuwait regarding the protection of human rights defenders.

The outcome of the review was published on 20th March 2020 and includes recommendations that Kuwait address the concerns of the Bedoon (stateless community) people and amend restrictive laws regulating the rights to association, peaceful assembly and freedom of expression, both online and offline.

Peaceful Assembly

On 28th January 2020, the Fourth Circuit Criminal Court issued rulings against 16 Bedoon human rights defenders, sentencing three of them to ten years in prison. In its judgment, the Court described them as "illegal residents." Reda Thamer Al-Fadhli and Hammoud Rabah Hamoud were sentenced to ten years in prison with labour, followed by deportation, while Mohammad Wali Al-Anezi was sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia. The three defenders were convicted of numerous charges including publishing information on the Internet to incite violations of laws, intentionally misusing a means of communication, publicly calling to rise up by force over the existing system in the country; and incitement to overthrow the existing government in the country by illegal means.

The other 13 Bedoon human rights defenders were acquitted of charges including participating in a group prohibited by law, carrying out, without the government's permission, hostile action against a foreign country, broadcasting false news abroad about the internal situation in the country, publicly calling to rise up by force against the existing system in the country, incitement to overthrow the existing system of government in the country by illegal means, publishing information on the Internet to incite violations of laws and intentionally misusing a means of communication. Those who were still in prison were ordered released, after five of them had earlier been released due to poor health. They had been in prison since July 2019.

Expression

Online activists and journalists have been subjected to a sustained campaign of interrogation and detention for exercising their right to freedom of expression online, and those who campaign for the rights of the Bedoon community have been imprisoned and deported. Some incidents reported between February and March 2020 include the following:

On 10th March 2020, journalist, Abdulaziz Al-Shaban, was summoned and interrogated by the Cyber Crime Department in relation to a tweet in which he expressed his opposition to normalising relations with Israel.

On 4th March 2020, a blogger who goes by the name of ‘’The Marxist Patron of People’’ and describes himself as "the president of the Kuwaiti Hard-Worker Association", was released on bail of 1,000 Kuwaiti dinars (approx. USD 3,260). The judge in the case accused him of insulting people with his tweets which condemn widespread corruption and the economic exploitation of citizens, as well as the failure of government agencies and officials to carry out their duties. The blogger had been arrested on 28th February 2020 by officials from the Electronic and Cyber Crime Combatting Department (ECCCD), which is managed under the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Ministry of Interior. According to reports, the arrest and subsequent investigation were partially motivated by a complaint filed by a high-ranking state official.

On 4th March 2020, the judge reviewing the case of detained human rights lawyer Hani Hussain refused to order his release, instead ordering that he remain in detention until the next hearing in his trial which was scheduled to take place on 23rd March 2020. Hussain, a well-known human rights lawyer in Kuwait who has defended Bedoon human rights defenders in retaliatory and vexatious criminal proceedings, was arrested on 19th February 2020, taken into custody by the Public Prosecution and detained in the Central Prison for an initial period of 21 days pending investigation. It is believed that his arrest and detention was in retaliation for his work defending Bedoon human rights defenders against prosecution, a tweet in which he allegedly violated the ‘law on national unity’ by criticising the way in which the National Assembly discussed proposals for a comprehensive amnesty law in February 2020 and the broadcasting of news about the area separating Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. He was released 9th April 2020 on bail of 5,000 Kuwaiti Dinar (approx. USD 16,000).

On 1st March 2020, blogger Fatez Al-Otaibi reported via his Twitter account that he had been summoned for investigation by the CID. He was subsequently interrogated by the Cyber Crime Department the following day and released without bail. The interrogation focused on 22 tweets he posted as part of his work in promoting and defending civil rights, including freedom of expression.

On 29th February 2020, blogger Alyaa Khraibut posted a tweet in relation to a summons she received from the Cyber Crime Department. She was released on 2nd March following investigations concerning a tweet she posted on her account on 27th November 2019, in which she commented on information published in local newspapers about "a lawmaker trying to release a suspect accused of rape." Local sources informed the Gulf Centre for Human Rights that the case against her was also transferred to the Public Prosecution’s Expression, Guidance and Social Communication Department. Khraibut uses her Twitter account to address the policy of censorship of books, respect for civil rights, freedom of the press and freedom of expression, as well as to expose attempts by public officials to cover up allegations of rape and sexual assault.