Kuwait: Authorities crackdown on protesters demanding citizenship rights
The Kuwaiti authorities have arbitrarily arrested more than a dozen protesters in recent days, including prominent human rights defender Abdulhakim al-Fadhli and other activists, in a crackdown on peaceful protestors demanding greater rights for the stateless group known as Bidun [short for “without citizenship”]. Twelve protesters remained in custody, Amnesty International said.
The arrests took place between 11 and 14 July following demonstrations held last week by members of the Bidun group, who had gathered in Freedom Square in Tayma, in the Governorate of Jahra, and Al Erada Square, in Kuwait City, after Ayed Hamad Moudath, 20, committed suicide after reportedly being unable to obtain official documents and eventually losing his job.
These arbitrary arrests primarily targeting peaceful protesters, activists and human rights defenders in Kuwait are not only unlawful, but are only set to exacerbate an already tense situation brought to the fore by the young man’s suicide.
“These arbitrary arrests primarily targeting peaceful protesters, activists and human rights defenders in Kuwait are not only unlawful, but are only set to exacerbate an already tense situation brought to the fore by the young man’s suicide. By continuing to deny the Bidun citizenship, the authorities are denying these long-term residents a range of basic rights, including their right to health, education and work, which in effect exclude them from being part and parcel of and contributing to a vibrant Kuwaiti society,” said Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East Director of Research.
“This has been a long-standing issue since Kuwait’s independence in 1961. It is high time the authorities address it in a meaningful and sustainable manner by ensuring that all Biduns have access to an independent, prompt and fair process when applying for citizenship.”
Two of the detained protesters Nawaf al-Badr and Mohamad al-Anzi, were referred to prosecutors on 14 July and charged with “national security offences”. Their detention has been extended for 21 days.
It is high time the authorities address it in a meaningful and sustainable manner by ensuring that all Biduns have access to an independent, prompt and fair process when applying for citizenship
Abdulhakim al-Fadhli and nine others were referred to prosecutors on 15 July and face a range of charges including participation in unlicensed protests, misuse of communication equipment, spreading false news, and other national security offences. Others were summoned and questioned but not arrested.
“We call on the Kuwaiti authorities to immediately lift the unlawful restriction of the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression and to release the protesters or charge them with a recognizable criminal offence,” Lynn Maalouf said.
More than 100,000 Bidun people are long-term residents of Kuwait, with most of them born there and belonging to families who have lived there for generations.
Despite government reforms announced in 2015, the Bidun community face severe restrictions on their ability to access documentation, employment, health care, education and state support enjoyed by Kuwaiti citizens.
In 2018, the minister of education rejected a parliamentary proposal to register children of Bidun in public schools. In the past, when Bidun people have protested to demand their rights, they have often faced repression.