Last updated: 31 October, 2012

Kuwait summons critic of emir in widening crackdown

Kuwait riot police Wednesday used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse thousands of angry demonstrators who marched on the central prison where a leading opposition figure is detained.

The protest came hours after the public prosecutor extended the detention of Mussallam al-Barrak for 10 days over remarks deemed critical of the emir, in a crackdown on dissent ahead of December 1 snap polls.

The crowd, estimated by organisers at 10,000, first gathered at Barrak’s residence in Andalus, 20 kms (12 miles) southwest of Kuwait City before marching on the central jail about three kilometers away.

Chanting “freedom for Barrak” and holding banners reading “The nation wants the release of the ‘conscience of the nation'” — the term used for nationalist Barrak — the protesters were faced with stun grenades as they arrived at the prison.

Activists told AFP that there were at least two other smaller demonstrations in solidarity with Barrak in south and north of the Gulf state which has seen an increased number of protests in recent months amid intense political disputes.

More than 100 protesters were hurt at a massive rally on October 21 organised by the opposition to demonstrate against the amendment of the disputed electoral law.

The opposition is planning a second protest on November 4.

Former MP Barrak was interrogated for five hours on Tuesday on accusations that he undermined the status of the emir at a rally on October 15 when he warned against amending the electoral law and also cautioned Kuwait was becoming autocratic.

The prosecutor, however, freed another opposition figure former MP Faisal al-Muslim on a $355 bail after questioning him on similar charges, his lawyer Abdullah al-Muslim said on Twitter.

Muslim was the sixth former opposition MP to have been summoned for interrogation on accusations of making public remarks critical of Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah.

Last week, the court released three former opposition lawmakers after five days in custody on similar accusations and freed a fourth former MP after a brief interrogation.

Separately, the foreign ministry said late Tuesday it would take legal action against prominent opposition writer Mohammad Abdulqader al-Jassem over an article deemed offensive to leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In his blog Tuesday, Jassem warned Saudi King Abdullah and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, that protests in Kuwait could quickly trigger similar events in their countries.

He also criticised the two leaders’ reported support and encouragement of the Kuwaiti crackdown.

Jassem told AFP on Wednesday that the authorities have yet to notify him of any legal action.

“I have not broken the law in my article and did not threaten anyone,” he said. He was jailed on three occasions in 2009, 2010 and 2011 for a total of over four months for allegedly criticising the emir and former premier.

The current crisis flared after the government decided to amend the electoral law in what the opposition claims is a step aimed at electing a rubber stamp parliament.

Twenty-nine candidates registered Wednesday — the opening day for registering their names for the December poll — compared to 109 who registered on the first day of registration in the previous election as the opposition boycotted.

The present registration process ends on November 9.

Earlier on Wednesday a dozen activists from the Civil Democratic Movement, an opposition youth group, staged a symbolic protest outside the interior ministry’s election department in Kuwait City after it started registering the candidates.

The new elections are the second this year and the fifth since mid-2006 amid political turmoil in the emirate which became the first Arab state in the Gulf to embrace democracy and issue a constitution in 1962.

The February legislative polls, in which the opposition won a landslide victory, were nullified by the constitutional court on June 20 on the grounds of flawed procedures.

The court also scrapped parliament and reinstated the pro-government house elected in 2009. The latter was eventually dissolved early October and snap polls were called.