Kuwait

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KUWAIT 2021

The authorities detained and prosecuted government critics under legal provisions criminalizing speech deemed offensive to the head of state. Members of the stateless Bidun minority continued to face discrimination. Courts continued to hand down death sentences; no executions were reported.

Background

In February, the Emir suspended parliament for a month, stating it was in a bid to defuse tensions between the government and parliament. Reasons for the tensions included a proposed general amnesty bill to pardon a group of former opposition members of parliament (MPs) convicted in relation to their participation in a 2011 protest, as well as the sentencing of a group of men following an unfair trial on charges that included “spying for Iran and Hizbullah”. On 8 November, the Emir granted pardons and reduced the sentences of 35 men, including 11 former MPs.

Freedom of expression and assembly

The authorities detained and prosecuted government critics and activists under provisions in the Cybercrime Law and Penal Code, including for speech deemed offensive to the Emir.

In April, the government approved amendments to the Kuwaiti Code of Criminal Procedure that mean the authorities can no longer order pretrial detention in cases related to freedom of expression. However, individuals can still be prosecuted and ultimately imprisoned for voicing their opinion.

At the end of June, Jamal al-Sayer, a poet, posted tweets on his account addressing the Emir and criticizing him for the tensions between the government and parliament. On 5 July, a number of State Security officers dressed in plain clothes arrested him as he was returning home in his car. He was released nine days later pending charges of “insulting the Emir, spreading false news with the aim of undermining the state, and misuse of his phone”. On 9 November, a criminal court acquitted him.

Arbitrary detention

At the beginning of November, in the first such case reported in 2021, the State Security Agency arbitrarily detained 18 men, including 10 Kuwaiti nationals, accusing them of sending money to Hizbullah in Lebanon.1 Many were interrogated for several days without access to a lawyer. At the end of the year, the detainees had yet to be formally charged.

Right to health

Until April, Kuwait prioritized Kuwaiti nationals for its Covid-19 vaccination campaign, which began in December 2020 and was free of charge. Foreign nationals and migrant workers, who comprise up to 70% of the population, were denied access to vaccines for the first half of the year until July, when vaccines were made available to everyone.

Discrimination

Bidun

Stateless Bidun people remained unable to access a range of public services.

Draft laws on the Bidun issue were proposed in parliament but none were voted on. In May, five MPs submitted a proposal for granting the Bidun basic socio-economic rights, including access to education, healthcare and work. In September, the speaker of parliament tabled a bill on the same draft law proposed in 2019 that, if enacted, would make Bidun individuals’ access to services conditional on relinquishing their claims to nationality.

Migrants’ rights

On 1 January, a decision to ban the renewal of visas for migrants over the age of 60 and not holding a university degree came into force. In October, a legislative advisory body nullified the decision, which could have provided grounds for the expulsion of thousands of people, including many who have lived in Kuwait for decades. Controversial new regulations were then introduced, allowing renewal of visas for an expensive annual fee in addition to private health insurance. Palestinian nationals, children of Kuwaiti women, and those born in Kuwait are exempt from the fees.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, Kuwait imposed an entry ban on foreign nationals, including migrant workers with valid residency permits. On 1 August, the ban was lifted on condition of a valid residency permit and recognized double Covid-19 vaccination.

In a rare case in which a perpetrator of abuse against a migrant worker had been held to account, the Appeal Court overturned in late May the death sentence that had been imposed on a Kuwaiti woman accused of killing her employee, Filipina domestic worker Jeanelyn Villavende, and reduced her sentence to 15 years in prison. The court upheld the four-year sentence against her Kuwaiti husband.

Women’s rights

In early February, Kuwaiti women launched their own #MeToo movement against sexual harassment under the name Lan Asket (I will not be silenced).

During the year, at least two women were murdered, including a Bidun woman at the hands of her brother. In one of the cases, in January, Farah Hamza Akbar was abducted and held briefly by Fahad Subhi Mohieddin Mohammed, who had been harassing her. She lodged a complaint while he remained free, having signed a pledge not to harm her, and the case went to trial on abduction charges. In mid-April, Fahad Mohammed killed her. He was sentenced to death on 6 July for murder and on 26 July he was additionally sentenced to 15 years in prison for abduction. He appealed against both sentences.

In May, two women, a Kuwaiti national and a Bidun, were arrested for placing street signs bearing the initials of female victims of male violence and the manner of their deaths. They were later released.

LGBTI people’s rights

On 3 October, a criminal court convicted Maha al-Mutairi, a transgender woman, under the 2014 Communications Law and Article 198 of the Penal Code which criminalizes “imitat[ing] the other sex in any way,” and sentenced her to two years in prison and a fine based on her online activities in 2021. She was incarcerated in Kuwait Central Prison for men. She lodged an appeal against her sentence.

Death penalty

Courts continued to hand down death sentences; no executions were reported.


  1. “Kuwait: Authorities must release arbitrarily detained individuals”, 14 December