x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Kuwait appeals court overturns jail term for politician's insult

A Kuwaiti appeals court today overturned a five-year prison sentence against a former parliament member for insulting the Gulf nation's ruler, a opposition activist said.

KUWAIT CITY // A Kuwaiti appeals court yesterday overturned a five-year jail sentence given to an opposition politician convicted of insulting the emir in a speech.

Under Kuwait's legal system, Musallam Al Barrak could still receive another sentence. The case will continue at the appeals court next month, the defence lawyer Mohammed Abdel Kadr Al Jassim said.

A former member of parliament, Mr Al Barrak has been out on bail since he was sentenced in April.

He was found guilty by a court of insulting Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmed Al Jaber Al Sabah at a rally in October in which he urged the emir to avoid "autocratic rule".

Unrest flared in Kuwait last year after the emir changed the electoral law before a parliamentary election in December. Mr Al Barrak and other opposition said the move was meant to deny them a majority and they boycotted the poll.

The emir said he made the changes to ensure Kuwait's security and stability. The government said the voting rules helped bring the electoral system in line with those used in other countries.

Mr Al Barrak, who draws support from some of Kuwait's powerful tribes, has emerged as a quasi-opposition leader in a country where formal political parties are banned. His arrest and conviction triggered a series of protests.

While his acquittal briefly lowered tensions between the government and opposition, it was apparent a large divide remains as the opposition said it would boycott any future poll under the electoral law, even if the constitutional court upholds the amendment next month.

The verdict is due to be handed down on June 16.

Opposition former MPs "decided to boycott the next election if the constitutional court confirms" the amendment, Faisal Al Muslim said after a lengthy meeting that was held before Mr Al Barrack's acquittal.

Kuwait's 50-seat parliament is entirely made up of government loyalists, with not a single opposition lawmaker after the opposition boycotted a general election last December.

Under the amended law each voter chooses a single candidate compared with a maximum of four under the previous law issued in 2006 after popular protests.

Mr Al Muslim said yesterday's meeting was attended by 24 former MPs and the boycott decision has authorisation from at least six others, as well as being backed by many opposition groups.

The electoral law divides the emirate into five electoral districts, with 10 MPs elected from each district to the 50-seat parliament.

The opposition former MPs decided "that without reinstating the 2006 electoral law, they will not participate in any polls", Mr Al Muslim said.

The constitutional court, whose judgements are final, is due to decide next month on 23 challenges to the amended electoral law and the December election process.

Among the possible decisions is that the court may scrap the amendment and order the dissolution of parliament.

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse