Kuwaiti riot police used tear gas and water cannons on Friday to scatter hundreds of stateless protesters demanding citizenship, a move that angered political groups and former MPs.
The police sought to break up a crowd of 400 people gathered after noon prayers in Jahra, 50 kilometers (31 miles) northwest of Kuwait City, raising Kuwaiti flags and banners that read: “We demand Kuwaiti citizenship.”
The assault came after the protesters refused to disperse, defying a police deadline to clear the area within 15 minutes. Security forces chased protesters to their nearby homes, while a helicopter hovered overhead.
Police arrested at least 20 stateless people, a journalist and a photographer of a local newspaper. Witnesses said that police raided a number of homes in the area to make arrests.
Members of the dissolved parliament, political groups and the students union strongly condemned police “repression” and warned that the use of force will not resolve the decades-old stateless crisis.
“The security method will only complicate the issue… We call for halting repression, the use force and for the release of those arrested,” the leftist Progressive Movement said in a statement.
The Kuwait Students Union described the situation of the stateless “as a stigma in Kuwait’s freedoms record” and a “humanitarian crime that should not continue in our country.”
Former MPs deplored the use of force against the peaceful protest and called on the government to resolve the crisis as soon as possible.
The demonstration comes four days after a Kuwaiti lower court began the trial of around 50 stateless people, locally known as bidoons, who were arrested during similar protests in February and March.
The men were charged by the court of illegal assembly with the intent to commit crimes and assault security forces. All the defendants denied the charges and said they committed no offence.
Under Kuwaiti law, only citizens have the right to hold public gatherings while foreigners are banned.
Kuwait launched a crackdown on the estimated 100,000 bidoons in 2000, depriving them of health care, education and jobs. The stateless claim they are Kuwaiti citizens who have been denied nationality.
The Kuwaiti government meanwhile insists that a large number of them hold nationalities of other countries.
The wealthy Gulf state, which considers bidoons illegal residents, has said that it is studying the issue of the stateless carefully and is prepared to grant citizenship to those deemed deserving.