A protester sits on the ground during a demonstration by stateless Arabs, known as bidoons, to demand citizenship and other basic rights in Jahra, 50 kms (31 miles) northwest of Kuwait City, on December 10, 2012. Encouraged by Arab Spring protests, stateless people estimated at more than 105,000 have been regularly demonstrating since February 2011 to press Kuwaiti authorities to resolve their decades-old problem, especially their claim to citizenship. AFP PHOTO/YASSER AL-ZAYYAT (Photo credit should read YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/AFP via Getty Images)

Kuwait: Drop charges against Bidun activist for speaking out over human rights of stateless

Ahead of the expected appellate verdict on Wednesday (31 January 2024) in the case of Kuwaiti Bidun activist Mohammad al-Bargash, who is being prosecuted for speaking about the human rights of Kuwait’s stateless Bidun population, Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: 

“For over three years, Mohammad al-Bargash has been one of the most vocal advocates calling for the Bidun’s human rights in Kuwait. It is shameful that Kuwaiti authorities are punishing al-Bargash simply for seeking to prick the conscience of the Kuwaiti government and people, in order to secure their respect for the right of the Bidun to be treated as equals in their own country.

“The pursuit of this prosecution sends a chilling message to all who dare exercise their right to freedom of expression about the Biduns’ situation. His prosecution for speaking about the human rights of Kuwait’s stateless is not only unjust but should never have come to pass. Authorities must quash all charges against him and end their persistent discriminatory practices against the Bidun community. 

It is shameful that Kuwaiti authorities are punishing al-Bargash simply for seeking to prick the conscience of the Kuwaiti government and people, in order to secure their respect for the right of the Bidun to be treated as equals in their own country.

Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa

“This is not the first time Kuwaiti authorities have attempted to imprison Bidun rights activists, nor the first instance of targeting al-Bargash. It is past time that Kuwaiti authorities stopped this farce and granted stateless Bidun their rights to nationality, education, and healthcare.”

Background

On September 3, 2023, officers from the State Security Agency, in plain clothes and without an arrest warrant, detained Mohammad al-Bargash at his workplace, an electronics shop in the al-Sulaibiya neighborhood of al-Jahra governorate

He is accused of “spreading false news and rumors abroad” that would “undermine the country’s prestige and standing” after he conducted an interview with Nabaa TV, a Saudi opposition channel broadcasting from Lebanon, discussing the Bidun situation.

He was held in prison for more than seven weeks and was then eventually released when a trial court acquitted him on 25 October 2023. The prosecution appealed, and the appellate court is poised to issue its verdict this Wednesday, January 31.

He has previously faced prison time for participating in a peaceful demonstration for Bidun rights in the Bidun neighborhood of Taima on 26 August 2022. In this case 21 defendants received fines, with al-Bargash sentenced to pay a 200-dinar fine (approximately $650 USD) and given a suspended one-year prison sentence. He faces a prison sentence of three to 15 years under the current charges, with the possibility of an even longer sentence because of his previous conviction.

The Bidun, numbering around 100,000 individuals, constitute a stateless population in Kuwait. The Kuwaiti government denies Bidun children access to free government schools attended by Kuwaiti children, and does not provide healthcare to Bidun on equal terms with Kuwaiti nationals.

Kuwait’s systematic discrimination against the Bidun violates its legal obligations, including under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.