An opposition member who used Twitter to criticize the ruler of Kuwait received a two-year jail term when he was sentenced by a Kuwaiti court Monday.
In recent months, protests have raged across Kuwait, a major U.S. ally in the Gulf region that houses thousands of American troops, after the Kuwaiti government began a crackdown on activists and opposition party members in September.
Rashed Saleh al-Enezi, the Twitter user convicted of insulting Emir of Kuwait Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, was taken away by police after a judge handed down his sentence, reported the Kuwait Times. Enezi sent out the tweets in October.
The newspaper reported that Enezi did not name the emir in his tweets, but the court said he suggested that it was meant to insult the ruler. Enezi, however, categorically denied that he was insulting him.
The court is also expected to rule against a number of former opposition lawmakers and youth activists who are also accused of insulting the emir. It is part of a widespread measure to crack down on dissidents in the tiny Arab country, according to the paper.
Mohammad al-Humaidi, the head of the independent Kuwait Society for Human Rights, told AFP that more than 200 activists, including former politicians, are facing charges over regular protests.
“The charges were not based on solid accusations but on wrong interpretation of the tweets by authorities. Most of the charges are fabricated,” he said.
Under the country’s law, public criticism of the Kuwaiti emir can net a jail term of up to five years as a state security offense, reported the Times.
In June, a court sentenced a 26-year-old man to 10 years in prison after insulting the Prophet Muhammad and others on social media sites. He was convicted of endangering public security by making the statements.
In late December, Human Rights Watch said Kuwaiti authorities have used “what appears to be excessive force to disperse largely peaceful protesters since October.”
The New York-based rights group said the protesters were mainly peaceful and demonstrated against the country’s political process. Opposition groups claimed the emir’s decree to amend the electoral law was against the country’s constitution.
On Oct. 15, protesters gathered near Parliament, but eyewitnesses told the rights group that some protesters briefly crossed police barricades.
“The demonstrators walked toward the barricades and I was not in the front row. There were some talks between the demonstrators and security forces and all of a sudden people were running away,” 25-year-old Mohamed al-Uraiman said.
“A few moments later, one [masked riot police agent] hit my back with a stick and another hit my head. I was bleeding a lot.” He was eventually taken to the hospital where he got five stitches.
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