Kuwaiti opposition politician released in insult case

Barrak had spent detention period at home, now out on bail

22 April, 16:27

    (ANSAmed) - DUBAI, APRIL 22 - Kuwait's court of appeals on Monday adjourned the trial against outspoken opposition politician Musallam Al Barrak, releasing him on bail. The former lawmaker and symbol of Kuwait's opposition had been sentenced to five years in prison in a first degree court on charges of insulting the emir during remarks made at a 2012 rally. However, the defendant was never actually taken into custody despite the ruling. He had instead engaged in a contest of wills against the interior ministry. Since the first ruling on April 15, Barrak - member of parliament in several legislatures - refused to allow himself to be arrested, demanding to see the original copy of the sentence and the arrest warrant. While awaiting the original, which never arrived, he continued to meet with activists and give interviews from his home, while ever more demonstrations were held in his support that often ended in protestors clashing with the police.

    Barrak's case is only the latest in a long line of attempts to curb freedom of expression not only in Kuwait but in the entire Gulf region. Over the past few months several politicians and intellectuals have been arrested or sentenced for ''subversive'' messages to the general public - whether real or virtual. One of the most frequently cited cases is that of Qatari poet Mohammad Al Ajami, who was sentenced to life in prison (later reduced to 15 years) for a poem held to have insulted the emir. Kuwait, known among the oil-rich monarchies of the Gulf region for being the country with the most open and vibrant political scene, has seen growing tension over the past few years between the executive and the legislative branches.

    Barrak's criticism of the emir in October came at a particularly tense time at the political level. Early elections had led to the formation of a government in February 2012, but in June a Constitutional Court ruling annulled the elections due to a procedural breach, thereby reinstating the previous parliament. Before calling new elections the emir had also changed the electoral law, lowering the votes allowed per person from four to one. This measure was seen as harmful to the opposition, which then proceeded to boycott the December elections.


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