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Kuwait 2023

Freedom of expression remained restricted for government critics. Kuwaiti plans to significantly increase fossil fuel production defied the international scientific consensus on how to prevent extreme climate change. Migrant workers’ rights were abused. Kuwait’s stateless population, the Bidun, continued to face discrimination.


The cabinet resigned under parliamentary pressure in January. The prime minister formed a new cabinet in June.

Freedom of expression

Authorities continued to use repressive laws to suppress freedom of expression when Kuwaitis criticized the authorities, in particular regarding the issue of the Bidun, Kuwait’s native stateless population.

In January, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs banned the lawyer and preacher Ahmad al-Asfour from giving sermons for three months because he had said the state should provide the Bidun with “a dignified life”.

On 10 August, authorities arrested Fadhel Dhahi, a Bidun activist previously prosecuted for participating in a peaceful pro-Bidun protest in August 2022. They charged him with “cybercrimes” for his use of X (formerly Twitter) to criticize Kuwait’s treatment of the Bidun. He was released on bail on 31 August, but the case against him was ongoing at the end of the year.

Also in August, the Ministry of Information submitted to parliament a draft Law on Regulation of Media, which, like the existing law, would criminalize criticism of the emir, and would now explicitly criminalize criticism of the crown prince and Islamic religious figures and require state permission to establish a publishing venture. The proposed law would add as a new crime speech that “leads to shaking confidence” in the country’s currency or economy. The same month, authorities banned any showing in Kuwait of an Australian film because it featured a transgender actor.

On 3 September, authorities arrested Bidun human rights activist Mohammad al-Bargash, who had been vocal on social media and in peaceful demonstrations for Bidun rights for several years. Like Fadhel Dhahi, he had participated in and was prosecuted for his role in the August 2022 protest. Authorities refused to publish the charges against him or share them with any party other than the defence attorney because it was a secret “state security” case. Judicial authorities charged him with “undermining the country’s prestige and standing” by spreading “false and biased news and rumours” about it on X and in media interviews. On 25 October, after more than seven weeks in prison, he was acquitted and released.

Freedom of peaceful assembly

Public protests in Kuwait remained infrequent and Kuwaiti law continued to criminalize those involving over 20 people that had not received prior permission from authorities. There were no public demonstrations of significant size in 2023.

In February, a trial of 21 Kuwaitis, both Bidun and recognized nationals, who peacefully protested for Bidun rights in 2022, concluded with convictions and sentences that involved fines but not prison terms.

Right to a healthy environment

Kuwait maintained plans to continue increasing fossil fuel production until at least 2035, contrary to the international scientific consensus that phase-out of fossil fuels needs to begin immediately to prevent extreme climate change. The state-owned Kuwait Oil Company announced in June that it will spend over USD 40 billion between 2023 and 2028 to expand oil production, including digging new oil wells.

In October, former Kuwait Petroleum Corporation manager Haitham al-Ghais, also secretary general of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), called for USD 12 trillion of further international investment in the oil industry by 2045.1

Kuwait remained one of the world’s top five emitters of CO2 per capita, according to World Bank data. It faced increasingly extreme summer heat due to climate change in recent years, including a heatwave in July.

Migrant workers’ rights

Migrant workers, who make up the vast majority of the private sector workforce, continued to be barred from forming unions, although after five years of residence they can join existing unions created by Kuwaiti nationals.

A study published by Kuwaiti and international researchers in April found increased rates of injury among migrant workers in the private sector who do outdoor labour and have had to work in rising temperatures in recent years. The study noted that the government’s regulatory approach to health and safety for these workers is inadequate. The existing policy – a simple time-based ban on outdoor physical labour from 11am to 4pm during the summer – does not ensure that workers are not labouring in dangerous levels of heat, since temperatures are often hazardous outside of those months and hours. Authorities did not respond with any initiatives to modify this policy.

The government undermined protection for migrant domestic workers by shutting down a safe house rented by the embassy of the Philippines in Kuwait for workers fleeing abusive domestic employers.

For the second consecutive year, Kuwait continued its policy of denying visitor visas to families of migrant workers.

Right to education

Authorities continued to discriminate against the Bidun in access to the right to education.

As has been the case for three decades, Bidun families who could not claim a special exemption (such as having a male family member in the military or police) could not send their children to the free government schools, and instead had to register them in for-profit private schools. Because the Bidun population had, on average, far lower income than recognized nationals, the schools Bidun families could afford were often inferior to the free government schools and lacking in basic equipment.

The government did not allow Bidun families with expired cards from the Central System for the Remedy of the Situation of Illegal Residents, the agency governing Bidun affairs, to register their children for school in advance like Kuwaiti citizens. Instead, no announcement authorizing school registration for this group was made until 12 September, giving them just two working days to register before classes started. Many Bidun do not renew their Central System cards, which expire annually, because when they do, they are at risk of being assigned a false, non-Kuwaiti nationality on their new card, making it more difficult for them to ever end their statelessness.2

Death penalty

Kuwait imposed new death sentences and carried out executions, with the number of executions significantly above the average of recent years.

LGBTI people’s rights

In January, a court acquitted two defendants charged with “seeking to resemble the other gender” because the Constitutional Court overturned the law criminalizing this conduct in 2022 on the grounds that it was unacceptably vague. There were efforts in parliament to formulate a new law that would more explicitly criminalize transgender people.

  1. “Global: OPEC chief’s call for huge investment in oil is a formula for climate disaster”, 3 October
  2. Kuwait: ‘I Don’t Have a Future’: Stateless Kuwaitis and the Right to Education, 17 August