Thousands of Kuwaitis demonstrated Tuesday after a court sentenced three former MPs to three years in jail for insulting the emir, in a ruling the opposition described as “political”.
Falah al-Sawwagh, Khaled al-Tahus and Bader al-Dahum were convicted of undermining the status of Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah at a public rally on October 10, their lawyer Mohammad al-Jumia said.
The lower court ruled that the sentences must be carried out immediately, but the police have yet to arrest the former lawmakers, and they were seen attending the opposition rally.
Chanting slogans against the ruling and the government, demonstrators crossed a major highway as they made their way from Sawwagh’s house to the nearby home of Tahus.
At a rally before the procession, chief of Awazem, the largest bedouin tribe in Kuwait, Falah ben Jame strongly criticised the verdict and warned the situation could deteriorate like in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen.
Former opposition MP Mussallam al-Barrak, facing similar charges in court, told the crowd the opposition would stage daily demonstrations in various areas in Kuwait.
He called on the opposition to unite and said a major meeting would be held on Wednesday to coordinate the opposition’s next move.
Earlier in the day, Barrak charged the ruling was politically-motivated.
“This is a political ruling,” he said.
“They have breached the constitution and played with the election system … now they want to terrorise us… we will not surrender and will not be scared,” Barrak told opposition supporters at the house of Tahus.
Former Islamist opposition MP Khaled al-Sultan warned that “politicising the judiciary” could trigger violent reactions and held the government responsible for the consequences.
The information ministry however said Kuwait has a “transparent and independent judicial system”.
“All citizens, regardless of their position, are equal in the eyes of the law. Anyone accused of a crime in Kuwait will get a fair trial with a comprehensive legal defence and open appeals process,” said the ministry.
The three former lawmakers were tried after they warned the emir at a public rally in October that amending the electoral law could spark street protests in Kuwait.
Kuwait has seen many opposition-led demonstrations in protest against the amendment to the electoral law which they claimed allowed the government to influence election results and elect a rubber-stamp assembly.
The Kuwaiti opposition even boycotted the December 1 general polls in protest against the amended law.
Mohammad al-Humaidi, director of Kuwait Society for Human Rights, said what the defendants spoke about at the gathering was “more like advice rather than a criticism.”
“There is no clause in the Kuwaiti constitution that bars people from addressing the emir directly and advising him,” Humaidi told AFP.
Under Kuwait’s constitution, it is illegal to criticise the emir.
Following their remarks at the rally, the former MPs were detained for six days in October and then released on a bail of $17,850 each after the first hearing.
During that hearing they strongly denied the charges levied against them, saying they had spoken within limits of the law.
Tuesday’s verdict is not final and can be challenged in the court of appeals and the supreme court.
Kuwait has clamped down on opposition activists, sending dozens of them to court for criticising the emir or taking part in protests. In the past few weeks, a number of tweeters have been sentenced to several years in jail.
OPEC member Kuwait which produces around 3.0 million barrels of oil per day, has been rocked by ongoing political disputes since mid-2006 that have stalled development despite abundant surpluses.