Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 October 2019

Kuwait releases opposition leader at the centre of protests

Opposition politician Musallam Al Barrak's detention triggered four days of protests as hundreds of his supporters took to the streets to call for his release.
Police used tear gas to disperse protesters in Kuwait City who tried to march from the Grand Mosque to the main court complex. Stephanie McGehee/Reuters
Police used tear gas to disperse protesters in Kuwait City who tried to march from the Grand Mosque to the main court complex. Stephanie McGehee/Reuters

KUWAIT CITY // A Kuwaiti court freed prominent opposition leader Mussallam Al Barrak yesterday after police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse a fifth straight night of demonstrations demanding his release.

Judge Ahmad Al Athari said he was releasing Mr Al Barrak on a bail of US$17,800 (Dh65,380), triggering jubilation among supporters of the former MP in the small, packed courtroom.

The public prosecutor had ordered Mr Al Barrak be detained for 10 days on Wednesday on charges of insulting the supreme judicial council and slandering its chairman Faisal Al Marshed at a public speech last month.

“Oh Mussallam, you are the conscience of the whole nation,” shouted the crowd of supporters after the judge ordered his release.

Mr Al Barrak has to appear again in court in September to resume the trial for which he faces a maximum of three years in jail.

Elite special forces, backed by armoured vehicles, had escorted Mr Al Barrak from the city’s central jail to court where supporters rushed to hug him and chanted slogans in his favour.

About 30 lawyers registered their names to defend Mr Al Barrak, 58, but the judges allowed only three of them to make arguments.

“What I said at the public rally did not constitute any insult to the judicial council or its chairman,” Mr Al Barrak told the judge after he read the charges against him.

Wearing a dark brown prison uniform, he said the order to detain him for 10 days “is illegal and is an act of oppression by the public prosecution”.

Mr Al Barrak told the court that before moving to the central jail, he had been detained at the central investigation department “where the treatment was extremely bad”.

“They did not give me my medicine nor allowed me to eat before fasting” he said, referring to the dawn-to-dusk fast observed by Muslims during the month of Ramadan.

Mr Al Barrak’s lawyer Thamer Al Jadaei told the judge that the arrest and detention order “were not based on the law and accordingly he must be released by the force of law”.

“We cannot accept in Kuwait that the supreme judicial council becomes a police station,” said Mr Jadaei. The two lawsuits against Mr Al Barrak were filed by the judicial council and its chairman.

Yesterday’s ruling comes after five nights of clashes between opposition activists who have been demanding his release and riot police who fired tear gas and stun grenades and arrested more than 50 people.

Riot police on Sunday dispersed hundreds of opposition protesters after they started to march toward a courts complex in the capital Kuwait City.

The interior ministry said a number of protesters had been held while rights activist Mohammad Al Humaidi said about 30 people were arrested.

Activists said a number of protesters were wounded with at least one of them requiring treatment at hospital.

They also announced they would keep protesting until all those arrested were released.

Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah discussed the violence on Sunday with his crown prince and prime minister.

At a public rally last month, Mr Al Barrak alleged that former senior officials, including ruling family members, had stolen tens of

billions of dollars from public funds and engaged in money-laundering. He also criticised the judiciary.

The scandal was later linked to claims that the same officials were seen in video footage plotting a coup.

Those allegations were made in a lawsuit filed last month by Sheikh Ahmad Fahad Al Sabah, a senior ruling family member and former energy minister, who was alsoquestioned as a witness.

* Agence France-Presse

Updated: July 7, 2014 04:00 AM