x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Kuwaiti opposition leader jailed for five years for insulting emir

A leader of the Kuwaiti opposition has been sentenced to five years' jail for insulting the country's emir in an October speech, in which he cautioned the ruler against 'autocratic rule'. Elizabeth Dickinson reports

A leader of the Kuwaiti opposition has been sentenced to five years in prison for insulting the country's emir in an October speech, in which he cautioned the ruler against "autocratic rule".

After leaving court, former MP Musallam Al Barrak told supporters that he would not resist arrest to serve the jail term. But his lawyer, Abdulrahman Al Barrak, told local media that his legal team planned to appeal the verdict.

Mr Al Barrak's case is the most prominent of a series of trials for charges stemming from opposition protests and rallies last year during the height of tensions between the opposition and the government. The largest opposition coalition says that it wants an elected government, the legalisation of political parties, and anti-corruption measures.

Beginning in October, opposition groups staged rallies that regularly drew tens of thousands of people to the streets. In December, the groups boycotted a parliamentary election in protest of government changes to the electoral system that they said made it harder to form coalitions.

On February 5, three other former opposition MPs, Falah Al Sawwagh, Bader Al Dahoum and Khaled Al Tahous, were sentenced to three years each for insulting the Kuwaiti ruler, which is banned in the Constitution. Activists say that several hundred Twitter users and protesters also facing charges related to political activity, including cases of insulting the emir.

On Wednesday last week, Kuwaiti media reported that the ministry of information was considering a new media law that could introduce fines of up to US$1 million (Dh3.67m) for defamation of the ruling family. The draft would need approval from parliament and the emir, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, before becoming law.

Al Barrak, nicknamed "conscience of the nation" by his supporters, has been outspoken in his calls for full constitutional monarchy in the emirate. He has maintained through his trial that his comments were not insults but simply advice.

Following his sentencing, fellow opposition leaders called for a resumption of protests yesterday evening. A Twitter account named "dignity of the nation" that has been used to organise past demonstrations also called for a mass protest.

Meanwhile, Bahrain's government yesterday backed proposals to impose penalties of up five years in prison and 10,000 dinars (Dh97,419) in fines for insulting its king or national symbols, local media reported.

edickinson@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting from the Associated Press