Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah attends a regional summit in Kuwait City, on April 9, 2013
Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah attends a regional summit in Kuwait City, on April 9, 2013. Human Rights Watch has urged Kuwait to drop charges against people accused of offending the emir, a day after a former MP was handed a jail term for insulting the Gulf state's ruler. © Yasser al-Zayyat - AFP/File
Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah attends a regional summit in Kuwait City, on April 9, 2013
AFP
Last updated: April 16, 2013

Human Rights Watch urges Kuwait to drop charges of offending emir

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday urged Kuwait to drop charges against people accused of offending the emir, a day after a former MP was handed a jail term for insulting the Gulf state's ruler.

"The Kuwaiti authorities should drop criminal charges against dozens of online activists, journalists, and politicians for legitimately exercising their rights to freedom of expression," HRW said in a statement.

The New York-based group also said the authorities in the oil-rich country should withdraw charges and overturn the sentences for at least 10 people already convicted in such cases.

On Monday, the lower court sentenced key opposition leader and former MP Mussallam al-Barrak to five years in prison for "insulting" Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah during a public rally on October 15.

Thousands of Kuwaitis demonstrated late Monday to protest the sentence which defence lawyers have described as illegal.

"No one should ever be prosecuted solely for expressing peaceful criticism," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

"The Kuwaiti authorities should not be jailing opposition activists and journalists on charges of ‘offending the emir’ but instead scrapping the criminal code provision that makes this a crime, and upholding their international obligation to protect free speech," she said.

Kuwait has clamped down on opposition activists, sending dozens to court for allegedly insulting the emir following a political crisis that began a year ago after dissolving an opposition-dominated parliament.

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