Dec 16, 2011

Arrests and Trials of Kuwait’s Stateless Protesters

Kuwaiti riot police use water cannons to disperse stateless protesters (AFP, Yasser al-Zayyat).

There are at least 120,000 Bidun jinsiyya (without nationality) in Kuwait today suffering from the lack of human rights. They cannot legally obtain birth, death, marriage or divorce certificates. The same applies to driving licenses, identification cards, and passports. They do not have access to public education, health care, housing or employment. And while they face some of the state’s harshest discrimination policies, they have no recourse to the law and its courts. Simply stated, the Bidun, who are equal to about 10% of the Kuwaiti population, do not exist. They have been dehumanized and rendered invisible by government policies coupled with pervasive social stigmatization.
Last February and March, Hundreds of the stateless community in Kuwait protested demanding their rights of documentation, education, health care, employment, and naturalization. The protests were brutally dispersed by riot police and tens of young men were arrested for a week or so. Riot Police used water cannons, teargas, smoke bombs, and concussion grenades to disperse the protesters. According to Human Rights Watch, over 30 people were injured and 120 were detained by state security in the first day of Bidun protests.
On the 12th of December, the stateless attempted to protest again to state their demands and to show support for those who were going on trials for protesting. Around 31 men were in court for ‘illegal protesting’ and were released as the judge decided to adjourn the case to the 23rd of January. Kuwaiti and stateless activists showed up to the court hearing to show support as the interior ministry refused to give permissions for any sit-ins. Kuwait Human Rights Association issued a statement condemning the trials and stating that the Kuwait constitution grants the rights to peaceful protesting and thus none should be prosecuted. Parliament members did not have a say in this and the only political bloc to have issued a statement in solidarity was the leftist Taqadomi movement. According to their lawyer Mousaed Al-Shammari, the 31 men might get 3 to 5 years jail sentences.
On the 14th, three other stateless men faced another trial for illegal protesting: Abdulhakim Al-Fadhli, Tariq Al-Otaibi, and Ridha Al-Fadhli. On Sunday the 18th, other 45 stateless men will face another trial and this time charged with violence against police men. The charges in the first two trials were submitted by the public prosecution, but in the coming trial, charges were submitted by the state security police. According to Kuwait Human Rights Association’s spokesman Taher Al-Baghli, state police did not charge the stateless for ‘illegal protesting’ only because such a charge will most probably be dismissed by the higher court.
Since the first trial started, the stateless community had several attempts to protest again. Activists tried to get permissions to protest in Erada square, in front of the parliament, where protests took place in the past two months against former prime minister Nasser Al-Mohammed which led to his resignation. The interior ministry refused to give such permission which made some of the stateless protest in their poorly-conditioned areas. The number was not large and protesters left in response to calls from some activists to avoid clashes.
This Friday, as reported by activists, tweeps, and news agencies, riot police used violence against stateless protesters and more than 20 men were arrested, among them two journalists who were later released (Fahad Al-Mayah and Hamad Al-Sharhan). According to a report by AFP: “Kuwaiti riot police used tear gas and water cannons on Friday to scatter hundreds of stateless protesters demanding citizenship. The police sought to break up a crowd of 400 people gathered after noon prayers in Jahra, raising Kuwaiti flags and banners that read: We demand Kuwaiti citizenship.” Stateless activist Mousaed Al-Shammari was reportedly arrested as he was trying to convince protesters to leave. Some wrote that he is now on hunger strike protesting his detention. According to a report by Reuters, there were also minors beaten and arrested in Friday protest. 

* Published in MidEast Youth

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